Statue of Liberty climber pleads not guilty to trespassing

LOWER MANHATTAN — A protester who climbed the Statue of Liberty on Independence Day went before a judge on Thursday, almost 24 hours after she'd scaled the top of the base of Lady Liberty and stayed for hours at the landmark's feet.

Therese Okoumou, who goes by her middle name Patricia, faces three federal charges. If she's found guilty and gets the maximum sentence, she could be sent to prison for 1 1/2 years — up to six months for each misdemeanor charge.

Both inside and outside of court on Thursday, her many supporters treated her like a hero.

They erupted into cheers as Okoumou emerged from the courthouse. She greeted them, as well as dozens of waiting journalists, with a quote from former first lady Michelle Obama.

"When they go low, we go high," Okoumou said, attributing the quote to Obama then adding, "And I went as high as I could."

Dozens of supporters present burst into cheers and applause.

Okoumou, 44, had been the focus of millions of viewers worldwide on Wednesday. That's when, following a planned protest to display a banner from the Statue of Liberty's base that read "Abolish ICE," Okoumou decided to take the protest higher, literally.

She stood, sat and walked around the feet of Lady Liberty for more than two hours on Independence Day, she said, as a highly visible act of protest against President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

"I think the message was sent," Okoumou said outside of court. "No child belongs in a cage. Children should not be separated from their parents, especially on a holiday like this."

In court, federal prosecutors and Okoumou's attorney agreed that she should be released on her own recognizance. No bail was requested by prosecutors for her three misdemeanor charges, which included trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Her supporters, who'd filled the courtroom, applauded from the gallery at the end of the proceeding when it was clear that Okoumou was headed home.

Dozens of supporters, most of them affiliated with the group Rise & Resist, of which Okoumou is an active member, arrived at court at the beginning of the business day to show solidarity.

"It was in the spirit of the Statue of Liberty," supporter Martin Quinn told PIX11 News.

He was responding to a question about the fact that Okoumou's action had forced the evacuation of 4,000 people and had shut down the Liberty Island National Monument.

"I'm sorry some people were inconvenienced, but they were part of history here," he said.

For her part, Okoumou was unapologetic about her climb, which had gone from the balcony of the statue’s base to the feet of Lady Liberty. That climb, which she’d done unaided, was about 30 feet.

When PIX11 News asked her how she’d been able to do it, her response was simple and brief.

“I did a pull up,” the physical trainer with some climbing experience said.

At one point in her brief news conference after being released, she held up her fist, to a response of cheers and shouts of “Thank you,” and then, minutes later, she headed home to Staten Island.

Her next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 3.