Democrats are wising up to the fact that soaring crime rates, rogue prosecutors and calls to “Defund the Police” are political liabilities. That’s one reason President Joe Biden has been encouraging community leaders to tap federal COVID-relief funds to beef up local policing. And just last week, his administration announced it will try to boost police funding in next year’s budget.
“Other politicians talk about funding the police, but President Biden and Congressional Democrats actually got it done,” a White House fact sheet on his plan claimed.
But if Team Biden really does now “Back the Blue,” why is it giving a sweetheart deal to two domestic terrorists who pleaded guilty to firebombing a New York City police van and planned to firebomb others?
After all, it’s rare for any prosecutor’s office to let a violent defendant withdraw a guilty plea and even rarer for the US Department of Justice to do so.
Put bluntly, the new plea deal stinks to high heaven — and certainly calls into question the administration’s professed support for law enforcement.
The firebombing case traces back to May 30, 2020, five days after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd. As protests spread across the nation, two New York City attorneys, Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman, made Molotov cocktails to attack the police.
“I think this protest is a long time coming,” Rahman said in an on-camera interview. “This s–t won’t ever stop unless we f–king take it all down.” An hour later, surveillance cameras recorded her throwing a flaming Bud Light beer bottle filled with gasoline into a police van outside Brooklyn’s 88th Precinct station house.
Shortly thereafter, police pulled Mattis over and found a lighter, a gasoline-filled Bud Light bottle and a gasoline tank in the back of the getaway van.
The US attorney’s office in Brooklyn charged the duo with unlawful creation and possession of Molotov cocktail devices and hit them with an enhancement for domestic terrorism. On Oct. 21, 2021, they pleaded guilty in federal district court. The charge carried a maximum term of 10 years’ imprisonment, but their plea deals gave the defendants the right to challenge the terrorism enhancement.
The Probation Department, which calculates sentencing ranges under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, estimated the two qualified for a 10-year sentence with the terrorism enhancement. If the government hadn’t added the enhancement, Probation estimated the pair would have had a sentencing range of only 37 to 46 months.
In March, the defendants’ attorneys objected to the terrorism enhancement, and a May 18 court hearing was scheduled to decide the defense motion.
Inexplicably, the Biden-appointed US attorney for the Eastern District of New York wrote the judge eight days before the scheduled hearing to notify him the parties had “reached an alternative resolution of the charges in this case.”
This new “resolution” is a gift to the defendants and a slap in the face to New York City law-enforcement officers. It let the two terrorists plead guilty to new (and dramatically reduced) charges of conspiracy to steal explosive material and conspiracy to create and possess Molotov cocktails — crimes that carry a maximum sentence of just five years’ imprisonment. The old charges and their applicable sentencing ranges went away.
And here’s the kicker: The Justice Department agreed to recommend a sentence of only 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment. It also agreed to allow the defendants to argue for even shorter terms at their sentencing hearing this fall.
Why did the Biden Justice Department allow these two to withdraw a perfectly legal and acceptable guilty plea to a crime they actually committed? What changed?
Local leaders will doubtless be happy to dip even deeper into the federal till to increase community policing and officers’ ability to trace firearms. But we have a strong suspicion that law enforcement would also like to see radicals who toss Molotov cocktails at them prosecuted to the full extent the law provides.
Let’s hope Judge Brian M. Cogan will give these two domestic terrorists what they deserve when he sentences them this fall.
Someone needs to send a message that attacking police doing their job is totally unacceptable. And clearly that someone is neither US Attorney General Merrick Garland nor Eastern District of New York US Attorney Breon Peace — both Biden-appointed.
Shame on all of them!
Cully Stimson is deputy director of the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of its National Security Law Program. Zack Smith is a legal fellow at the center.