Therese Patricia Okoumou, the woman who scaled the stone pedestal of the Statue of Liberty to protest U.S. immigration policy pleaded not guilty to trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with governmental administration in her first court appearance on Thursday.
The 44-year-old was arrested on Wednesday after she climbed the statue’s pedestal and began a three-hour standoff with police that led to the evacuation of the landmark on the Fourth of July holiday, celebrating U.S. independence.
After her brief arraignment on the three misdemeanor charges, Magistrate Judge Ona Wang ordered Okoumou to be released from federal custody.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, called the hours-long protest a “dangerous stunt” that endangered lives. “While we must and do respect the rights of the people to peaceable protest, that right does not extend to breaking the law in ways that put others at risk,” Berman said in a statement.
An activist group called Rise and Resist said on Facebook that Okoumou was part of a protest at the base of the statue against immigration policy. The protesters unfurled a banner that read “Abolish ICE,” the acronym for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Created in 2003, the agency has become a focus of criticism over U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy of “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration.
Outside court afterward, Okoumou thanked the U.S. Park Police for their courtesy and professionalism, but said the government’s “draconian policy” on immigration had to end.
“In a democracy we do not put children in cages,” Okoumou told reporters. “The judge told me not to do it again. But I think the message was sent.”
The next hearing in Okoumou’s case is set for Aug. 3.