A Staten Island woman who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty on July Fourth was freed without bail Thursday on federal charges and struck a defiant tone about the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
Therese Okoumou, 44, exited the Manhattan federal courthouse to cheers and applause from pro-immigration supporters after her arraignment on three misdemeanor charges, a day after she pulled herself up on to Lady Liberty’s pedestal and then spent several hours refusing NYPD requests to come down.
Calling President Donald Trump a “monster,” Okoumou said “his draconian zero-tolerance policy of immigration has to go. In a democracy we do not put children in cages, period.”
Okoumou said she would not attempt to climb the iconic statue again since it would be another crime subjecting her to additional penalties.
Inside the courthouse, Okoumou, who said she immigrated to the United States in 1994 from the Republic of the Congo and is a naturalized American citizen, entered a not-guilty plea before federal Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang to charges of trespass, interfering with government agency functions and disorderly conduct. Each offense is punishable by 6 months in prison. Wang said prosecutors and defense attorney Rhidaya Trivedi had worked out a deal so Okoumou didn’t need to post bail. Wang scheduled a status conference for Aug. 3.
Asked by a reporter how she managed to climb to the pedestal of the statue, Okoumou answered “I did a pull-up.” She didn’t elaborate.
Trump mocked Okoumou at a rally Thursday night in Great Falls, Montana, calling her a "clown."
"I wouldn't have done it," Trump told a cheering crowd, referring to how NYPD officers helped Okoumou down before taking her into custody. "I would have said, 'lets get some nets and wait til she comes down. Just get some nets.' "
In a statement announcing the charges, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Okoumou’s “stunt” not only alarmed the public but also “endangered her own life and the lives of the NYPD officers who responded to the scene.”
As Okoumou made her way to the pedestal Wednesday afternoon in a scene beamed live across the country on cable news networks, the U.S. Park Service evacuated Liberty Island, suddenly cutting short holiday excursions of perhaps hundreds of tourists.
Some of those forced to abandon the island complained to reporters about losing out on a key moment from their costly vacations. When reporters asked Okoumou about the complaint from some tourists, her attorney Trivedi replied: ”Hopefully, they know there are people like [Okoumou] out there trying to protect them.”
A team of NYPD emergency service unit cops, including two from Long Island, took about three hours to finally take Okoumou into custody at about 7 p.m., just two hours before the start of the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks show on the East River. Okoumou was then handed over to the U.S. Park Police.
While Okoumou lauded the U.S. Park Police as being “very wonderful to me,” she took a shot at local cops, saying “the NYPD can learn something or two from them.”
NYPD officials said their officers handled the situation the right way.
“The ESU officers responded with professionalism and bravery, as they always do in service of New York City,” NYPD spokesman Phil Walzak said.