Here’s Why Giant Cockroaches Shut Down an Albany Courtroom

ALBANY — On Tuesday, June 7th, a pack-the-court protest took place where hundreds of “hissing roaches” were reportedly released into an Albany courtroom — forcing the courthouse to shut down for 24 hours and prompting the cancellation of several scheduled arraignments.

The disruption, which occurred at Albany’s Criminal Court at 1 Morton Avenue, was in response to recently leaked video footage of New York State Troopers violently assaulting and arresting a disabled Black woman at the NYS Capitol last month.

In fact, according to protesters, all of the bizarre events that transpired on June 7th were a direct result of NYS Troopers — led by Senior Investigator Marcus Walthour — targeting and attacking an unarmed, disabled, Black woman on May 17th inside the NYS Capitol. At the time of this writing, none of the officers involved in that assault have been reprimanded.

Footage of the May 17th arrest that prompted a roach infestation

According to witnesses, dozens of community members and organizers crammed into the courtroom on Tuesday to support the Capitol victims during their arraignments.

Police were reportedly confrontational with supporters as soon as they entered the public seating area of the courtroom.

Officers threatened to remove three separate men for wearing hats prior to the proceedings. Another woman was threatened with arrest for “standing” instead of being seated. And Clyanna Lightbourn, a Black woman, was ordered to hand over her phone that she reportedly was seen holding while waiting for arraignments to begin. This all occurred before 8:40am, within the first 10 minutes of the courtroom opening to the public.

After 5 messy stomps, an officer reportedly yelled, “Stop, they’re too big!”

When Lightbourn did not immediately relinquish her property, police attempted to snatch the device from her hands, which prompted three other women in the courtroom to physically intervene in an attempt to stop law enforcement. To the shock of witnesses, police pushed through these three women and forcibly placed Lightbourn under arrest for the crime of “filming in court.”

This predictably set the courtroom into a frenzy, as attendees were already in court to protest police attacking and targeting Black women.

Court officials repeatedly ordered everyone to be seated, but participants refused due to the abusive treatment of Lightbourn and the women who came to her aid. (Four separate witnesses sitting behind Lightbourn during the disturbance later confirmed she was not filming in the courtroom at all.)

Enter the roaches:

Before Lightbourn could be escorted out of the courtroom, a woman began screaming.

That’s when it became apparent that the courtroom had suddenly become inundated with what appeared to be hundreds of large insects — later identified as harmless “Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches” by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Chaos ensued from there.

Photo: Roaches in the courtroom (via Washington Times)

Several officials ran out of the courtroom in a panic. Officers first told attendees to remain seated, before changing course and ordering the courtroom be evacuated. There was pushing, running, shouting, and general disorder.

Lightbourn, still in handcuffs, was the only detainee not evacuated from the courtroom, and was instead instructed to remain seated. Evacuees outside began peering through the first floor windows of the courthouse to ensure Lightbourn wasn’t further isolated or abused by law enforcement while in custody.

Police first attempted to stop the spread of the roaches by corralling them with various objects. When that failed, they attempted to stomp on the roaches — one by one — many of which were the size of small mice.

After 5 messy stomps, an officer reportedly yelled, “Stop, they’re too big!”

At this point, the back of the courtroom was also being evacuated as the roaches continued to spread throughout the chamber and adjoining rooms.

A maintenance worker was called to the courtroom. He quickly left and returned several minutes later with an industrial ShopVac, and proceeded to suck up individual roaches swarming the public seating area. But by now, the lightning fast roaches were everywhere.

Another court official opened the door from an adjoining room and announced they’d made it into her office. A uniformed officer noted roaches had gotten into the judges’ chambers as well. A decision was made to call an exterminator and shut down the building completely.

Meanwhile, across town:

While all of this was going on, a second demonstration was getting underway across town at the NYS Capitol — where NYS Troopers had attacked the initial victims last month.

Photo: A 2nd demonstration shutdown Eagle Street, Between Washington and State

Mayor Kathy Sheehan was seen being escorted from Albany’s City Hall by security detail in a dark SUV around 9:45am. By 10:15am, protesters had completely taken the streets between the Capitol Building and City Hall. Within one hour of Criminal Court being shut down due to cockroaches, protesters succeeded in blocking the busiest intersection in Downtown Albany in the middle of the workday.

While the intersection was occupied, a contentious speak-out commenced condemning the actions of NYS Troopers and the organizations that enabled the arrest and injury of a Black woman at the Capitol. This disruption lasted for well over an hour, with law enforcement watching from a distance and not attempting to disperse the angry crowd or re-open the streets.

Word of the Capitol disruption quickly got back to the courthouse.

Law enforcement were reportedly overwhelmed and baffled at how demonstrators had managed to effectively shut down multiple government operations in such a short amount of time. They turned their attention to the one person they had managed to arrest amidst the chaos.

Photo: Lightbourn (left) with 12-time Grammy winner, John Legend

Although Lightbourn had been in custody before any intersections were shut down or any roaches had been spotted, police began adding several more charges to her initial arrest.

At one point, family members waiting on Lightbourn’s release were told by court police that she had been charged with “7 felonies” including “animal cruelty,” and would be transported to Albany County Jail for a minimum of 24 hours.

Those statements, however, proved to be false, as Lightbourn (who has no criminal record) was released by 3pm and given an appearance ticket for much lesser crimes.

Community members can support Lightbourn in three ways:
1️⃣ Donate to Lightbourn’s housing and legal fund.
2️⃣ Email Senator Stewart-Cousins requesting Lightbourn be reinstated.
3️⃣ RSVP to Lightbourn’s July 5th arraignment action.

Lightbourn was kept in handcuffs for over six hours, charged with various misdemeanors — such as “resisting arrest” for the actions of bystanders who attempted to intervene — and one felony for “destroying video evidence” on her phone. But Lightbourn and several witnesses attest that she was never filming, hence why no evidence was found. The phone in question was confiscated and sent to forensics to confirm these claims.

Lightbourn, who is a well-known organizer in the Albany area, was also never charged in relation to the roaches, because she was in custody well before they were observed in the courtroom.

Despite being abused by police during her arrest and having no direct involvement in either protest, Lightbourn was terminated from her job as an Upstate Regional Director serving under New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, shortly after being released.

In the past, Senator Stewart-Cousins has been vocal in condemning police brutality against Black Americans.

Senator Stewart-Cousins addresses session on police brutality

How to support:

Advocates are asking community members to call on the Senator to request Lightbourn be reinstated.

Emails can be sent to Stewart-Cousins directly via:

SCousins@NYsenate.gov

Cc: gianaris@nysenate.gov, rortega@cityandstateny.com, lamor1028@gmail.com, majorityLeaderCommunications@nysenate.gov, zwilliams@cityandstateny.com

Additionally, a community fund has been established to cover Lightbourn’s housing and legal fees while she fights the charges levied against her.

Donations can be sent to the following links:

https://go.rallyup.com/troysolidarity
https://Cash.me/vivalacocoaa
https://PayPal.me/paybae
https://venmo.com/Clyanna

Lightbourn’s arraignment has been scheduled for Tuesday, July 5th @ 8am in Albany, and another pack the court action has already been scheduled for the same day. Residents can RSVP to that event here.

This story is developing.

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