Protesters with the National Organization for Women gathered outside of the Manhattan District Attorney's office on Centre Street Friday to speak out against the DA's handling of a 2015 sexual assault case involving movie producer Harvey Weinstein. In 2015, Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez accused Weinstein of sexual assault, but the DA's office ultimately decided not to prosecute the case. In the wake of other abuse allegations coming to light this week, NOW NYC leaders gathered to denounce this decision and question DA Cy Vance's motives.
President of NOW NYC Sonia Ossorio accused the DA's office of sending "bad signals" to the public and sexual assault victims alike. She urged for an overhaul of both the criminal justice system and workplace culture, calling on men to help their female colleagues transform gender politics in the workplace and beyond. "We cannot do it by ourselves," Ossorio said. "We cannot reform and change culture and shift it unless you're standing with us."
"I think the district attorney's decision is emblematic of something that's happening in office routinely, but doesn't usually make the headlines," added Jane Manning, an attorney and the Director of Advocacy for NOW NYC. "There is no question that he could have prosecuted this case."
Manning went on to argue that witness testimony could have been enough to convict Weinstein, but "his case never made it to a jury because the prosecutors were unwilling to go forward. And that's not right." A few months after dropping the case, Vance accepted a $10,000 campaign donation from Weinstein attorney David Boies.
Last week, before the Weinstein scandal made headlines, Vance was already taking heat for his failure to prosecute Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. after they were accused of misleading prospective buyers at the Trump Soho building in the early aughts. Ossorio connected the Trump case with Weinstein's, stating that "the rich and powerful do get a break" in terms of the criminal justice system.
"If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct that occurred in 2015, we would have," countered Chief Assistant DA Karen Friedman-Agnifilo in a statement.
Friedman-Agnifilo criticized a sting operation organized by the NYPD and Gutierrez, claiming that prosecutors weren't consulted before Gutierrez, wearing a wire, met up with Weinstein to try to extract a confession. "While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law," Friedman-Agnifilo said. She called the subsequent attempts to establish criminal intent unsuccessful, which eventually left the prosecution with "no choice but to conclude the investigation without criminal charges."
Manning directed a message directly to Gutierrez Friday. "Even if the District Attorney of our city may not believe you," she said, "the men and women of New York City do."
Vance is running unopposed for reelection in November, but former Brooklyn assistant DA Mark Fliedner has now mounted a write-in vote challenge in the wake of the Weinstein and Trump-related blowback.
The DA's office urges anyone else who feels they might be a victim of Harvey Weinstein in Manhattan to call the Sex Crimes Hotline at (212) 335-9373.