A woman accused of driving into 50 Black Lives Matter demonstrators in December last year has rejected a plea deal to instead go to trial.
Kathleen Casillo attended a proceeding in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday, having been accused of mowing down the protesters on 11 December 2020.
At the time, she told law enforcement that she panicked, hitting the gas when the protesters started attacking the car and attempting to open the doors.
The plea deal she rejected to go to trial would have had her complete six days of community service and have her driver’s licence suspended for a year.
She was released hours after her arrest and was issued a desk appearance ticket directing her to appear in court for her arraignment.
She was charged with reckless assault on 22 February, prompting BLM demonstrators to gather outside the courthouse on Wednesday to protest the charge that they considered too lenient.
Some of the protesters compared Ms Casillo to Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager who killed two people and injured a third during racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020. Mr Rittenhouse was acquitted at trial last month.
Ms Casillo’s 29-year-old daughter, who was also in the car, has not been charged. The 53-year-old is set to return to court on 28 January.
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Nine protesters were wounded in the incident. According to AMNY, protester Roque Rodriguez said that “Kathleen Casillo drove her car at top speed through a crowd of human beings. I was one of those human beings, I never saw her coming”.
“She hit me flush from behind and set my body flying and flipping through the air and she kept driving,” he added. “It’s white supremacy that allowed Kathleen to believe she had the right to end the lives of anyone that got in her way, especially BLM protesters.”
Several survivors shared their personal stories about what happened.
“It has been a very long year. Kathleen Castillo’s car left me with five bulging discs in my back and a traumatic brain injury. It’s one thing to face physical recovery. It’s another to try to process what happened mentally and emotionally,” Tabitha Howell said.
Mr Rodriguez argued that Assistant District Attorney Andrew Mercer “neglected to follow up with seven of the nine people who were directly hit and impacted by this crime”.
“He did no due diligence, and instead assumed that Kathleen did not have bad intentions and that no one else was seriously harmed,” Mr Rodriguez added.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office told AMNY that “our office has attempted to speak with every victim in this case”.
Ms Casillo has argued that she was the victim in the situation, only driving ahead when her vehicle was attacked. She has also said that she can’t recall hitting anybody while her foot was on the gas.
The retired FedEx worker told DailyMail.com on Thursday: “My side of the story was we were attacked by people who were going to break my daughter’s window and pull her out of the car, so I feared [for] my life.”
“I never intended on hurting anyone,” she said. She could now face seven years in prison after rejecting the plea deal.
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Ms Casiollo’s daughter Dominique told DailyMail.com that her mother is now afraid of going to Manhattan and “definitely has PTSD”. She has also received death threats and was escorted into court by guards on Wednesday.
“You know when you picture a protest, you picture a bunch of [people] protesting for something. That’s not what we saw,” Dominique told the outlet. “It was more like being attacked by random people who were being menaces.”
She claimed that those who attacked the vehicle “weren’t really part of the protest”.
“They were just lingering and pulled out of nowhere before we stopped the car,” the daughter said. “We waited, watched the light turn green [then] red.”
“We waited a long time ... doing nothing,” she added.
“Then they walked away just a little bit so we could move,” Dominique said. “We started driving and they started attacking the car. So naturally, we stopped again, and that’s when they started hitting [the] car, cursing us out. I was really scared honestly.”
“Finally there was a bit that actually cracked the window open on my side and that’s when my mother started to roll,” she told DailyMail.com. “We said we have to get out of here because they’re not going to stop.”
Ms Casillo’s attorney, Oliver Storch, told the site that it’s a “false narrative” that his client is a racist who hit the pedestrians on purpose. He said the idea was “without merit and deeply disturbing”.
“One of my closest friends is a woman of colour, from when I was 19 years old, so it’s not a black, white thing,” Ms Casillo told the outlet. “I don’t even know the colour of the people that I hit. It was all mixed.”