With boaters and spectators lining the East River for the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks, the NYPD officers with Truck 1 of the Emergency Services Unit knew they would be busy.
“Just having a large volume of people in the city and our increased responsibilities relating to counterterrorism, the fireworks detail — it is always a busy day,” truck commander Lt. Michael McGuinness said.
But at about 3:15 p.m., the cops from ESU Truck 1 in Manhattan had to deal with another spectacle that many in New York City had not expected. A 44-year-old Staten Island woman, Therese Okoumou, had climbed on to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies. She faces three federal misdemeanor charges for her actions.
Sitting on the sloped metal skin of Lady Liberty in high heat, Okoumou was in a precarious position. Knowing this, U.S. Park Police called in the highly-trained cops from Truck 1 who, over a period of four hours, carried out a high-elevation rescue and apprehension that was televised around the world.
On Friday, McGuinness, 45, and two other detectives — Det. John McKenna, 49, and Det. Robert Stosch, 54 — recounted the dramatic rescue. All three are from Long Island but asked that their hometowns not be revealed for security reasons.
Grabbing their emergency services bags, McGuinness and other officers assigned to Truck 1 jumped on a police harbor launch and sped to Liberty Island.
“Our aviation unit was over the island first. They were able to give us a video link so we could actually see the protestor on the pedestal, so that gave us a heads up on what we were getting into,” McKenna, a 26-year NYPD veteran, said. “Already, before we touched the island, we had a plan in place.”
As soon as they arrived, McGuinness said the officers put up a long ladder to reach the top of the pedestal and find out what Okoumou was up to.
“Our unit does this every day,” Stosch said. “We rescue people from elevated platforms almost daily. What makes this unique is that it is on a national landmark.”
Two Truck 1 officers, Det. Brian Glacken — another Long Islander — and Christopher Williams, climbed on to the pedestal, which has a metal skin that is only the thickness of two pennies, Stosch said. At some point, Stosch recalled, Okoumou told the cops that she was going to fight them and kick the ladder over. (Okoumou's attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.)
To cool things down, the officers engaged in conversation with Okoumou, who was venting about immigration policies. Eventually, Glacken and Williams — who were tethered to the statue’s crown by a 200-foot rope — felt confident they could safely approach her.
“There comes a point where they will concede they have made their point. You are on national television, everybody sees your agenda, whatever it may be,” McGuinness said.
The afternoon heat may have been on their side as well. It not only had drained the officers but had to be taking a toll on Okoumou too, he said.
“Thank God there was a breeze,” Stosch quipped.
Glacken and Williams were finally able to secure a safety harness to Okoumou, tether her to another rope line and escort her down the ladder.
“She apologized to Detectives Glacken and Williams,” Stosch said. “She was complacent at that point.”
Aside from some sunburn suffered by McGuinness, no one seemed any the worse for wear. A news conference followed the rescue and then the members of Truck 1 had to go back to work — just in time for the fireworks display.
With Ellen Yan