By Jennifer Peltz
NEW YORK — An Occupy Wall Street activist charged with assaulting a police officer went on trial Friday, with her lawyers saying she was wrongly accused in one of few still-lingering criminal cases that sprang from the protest movement.
Cecily McMillan is charged with deliberately elbowing an officer in the eye as police cleared people out of the movement's home base, Zuccotti Park, at Occupy's six-month observance in March 2012. But her defense says McMillan was startled and knocked the officer accidentally after he grabbed her left breast from behind, leaving her bruised.
The 25-year-old graduate student's felony trial has become a rallying point for activists, and dozens came to a Manhattan court to watch Friday's opening statements. While more than 2,600 cases ensued from the protests over economic inequality, most involved misdemeanor or violation charges.
The city had evicted Occupy's Zuccotti Park encampment four months earlier, but activists gathered there to celebrate the six-month mark. Around 11:30 p.m., officers told people to leave so the park could be cleaned, adding that they could return afterward, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Shanda Strain said.
She said McMillan screamed at police and refused to go, so an officer escorted her out with hands on the back of her shoulder. When he turned his head, she crouched, jumped up and hit his eye with her elbow, according to the prosecutor.
"Cecily McMillan thought she could get away with assaulting a police officer by shielding herself in the name of protest," Strain said.
But McMillan's defense says she left the park promptly when told to go and then was suddenly gripped from behind, unaware it was an officer touching her. Her supporters have said she later had a seizure or anxiety attack as police dragged her.
"Reacting to being grabbed by a stranger is not a crime," said one of her lawyers, Rebecca Heinegg.
Activists and authorities have both said that videos from the episode support their points.
Manhattan prosecutors agreed to dismiss more than 78 percent of some 2,644 Occupy-related cases, most of them on the condition that defendants stay of trouble for six months. Some 354 people pleaded guilty, 55 were convicted at trials, and 11 were acquitted, the DA's office says. A few other cases were dismissed by judges.
McMillan was offered a no-jail plea deal but declined because it entailed a felony record, defense lawyer Martin Stolar said.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press