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Ivy League-Educated Lawyer Who Helped Firebomb NYPD Vehicle During Racial Justice Protest Sentenced to Prison

Colinford Mattis

Colinford Mattis arrives at federal court in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

An Ivy League-educated attorney who helped another lawyer hurl a Molotov cocktail at a New York City police car in the name of racial justice has been sentenced to spend a year and a day behind bars.

Colinford Mattis, a 35-year-old graduate of Princeton University and New York University Law School, had been an associate at Pryor Cashman when nationwide protests raged in the wake of George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020. His co-defendant, tenants’ attorney Urooj Rahman, received a 15-month sentence in November. Both have been disbarred.

On May 29, 2020, rioters set arson to the Minneapolis Third Precinct stationhouse, and much of the nation viewed the police station engulfed in flames with horror. Prosecutors say that Mattis and Rahman looked on with a different reaction: inspiration.

“Mattis and Rahman used a separate group chat to discuss the use of weapons and violence to pursue social change,” the government’s sentencing memo states. “In their discussion, Rahman expressed the view that ‘all the police stations’ and ‘probably all the courts’ ‘need[ed]’ to be burned down.”

Mattis and Rahman

Colinford Mattis, 32, and his accomplice, 31-year-old Urooj Rahman. (Photos via DOJ)

Similar chats followed, and prosecutors say that Rahman — who ultimately received the tougher sentence — took the more hardline stance that “all the police stations” and “probably all the courts” needed to be incinerated. In group chats on the duo repeatedly denigrated police in group chats, writing “F— 12” and calling officers “pigs.”

Late that evening, the pair prepared to act on their rhetoric. Mattis picked up gasoline at a Mobil gas station. They met at a 7-Eleven convenience store shortly before midnight, where they bought glass Bud Light beer bottles and toilet paper for makeshift Molotov cocktails. Mattis drove a minivan to the NYPD’s 88th Precinct Stationhouse, and Rahman ignited and tossed the homemade incendiary device through the smashed window of the NYPD sedan around 1 a.m. on May 30, 2020, prosecutors say.

In recommending prison, federal prosecutors said that the same accomplishments that typically help criminal defendants made Mattis’s conduct more alarming.

“Even more significantly, his crime involved targeting a law enforcement agency charged with enforcing the same law that, as an attorney, he had sworn to uphold,” the sentencing memo said.

Mattis’s attorney Sabrina Shroff told the judge that her client’s actions came in the context of social upheaval, as well as struggles with alcohol and mental health.

“This is not to say that destructive acts done in anger or despair are acceptable — of course they are not, and should be punished,” Shroff wrote. “But, that does not mean that the differences between Mr. Mattis’s and Ms. Rahman’s mental states should be ignored when determining the weight afforded to general deterrence.”

The defense sought a non-incarceration sentence, arguing that “being a felon and being disbarred could never be viewed as a slap on the wrist by those who might otherwise consider engaging in destructive protests.”

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan rejected that request, ordering Mattis to report to prison on March 8. He must pay $30,137 to the NYPD to compensate them for the torched vehicle, and his sentence will be followed by a year of supervised release.

Read the government’s sentencing memo, below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."