Brooklyn Bridge Climber Arrested, White Flags Removed

Brooklyn Bridge Climber Arrested, White Flags Removed

When the morning of July 22 dawned, mysterious white flags were billowing atop the Brooklyn Bridge, replacing the normal American flags and leaving the NYPD baffled. Who had done it, and why?  Was it a terrorist threat, an art project, or just a bold statement?  On August 21, Berlin-based artists Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf took responsibility and returned the original flags, saying they performed the stunt to commemorate the 145th anniversary of the death of the iconic bridge’s architect, John Roebling.  No charges have been filed against the German duo, although the same cannot be said of Russian tourist Yaroslav Kolchin, who was arrested after scaling the bridge on Sunday.  Kolchin is now facing assorted criminal charges, while Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD look for ways to improve bridge security.

Brooklyn Placard

Kolchin Follows German Artists’ Footsteps in Bridge-Climbing Stunt, Now Facing Various Charges

As the adage goes, “What goes up must come down.”

Around 12:15 P.M. on Sunday, August 24, officers on the ground stood with their necks craned toward the top of the Brooklyn Bridge.  They were watching 24-year-old, Russian-born Yaroslav Kolchin clamber his way along the bridge’s landings and support beams — and waiting for him to return to earth.

Kolchin, however, is not the first to climb the bridge in recent weeks.  The first incident took place around 3:00 A.M. on July 22, almost exactly a month prior, when surveillance cameras captured what appeared to be a group of men scaling the bridge and swapping its American flags for bleached white flags.

But why?

“At this time,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller on July 22, “there is no sign of any particular nexus to terrorism or even politics.  It could be someone’s art project or a statement, but it’s not clear what that statement is.”

“I’m not particularly happy about the event,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton added.

While the men have since been identified as artists who were simply memorializing the bridge’s beauty, the incident certainly raised alarms about the bridge’s security.  Now that Kolchin has also scaled the bridge, those security questions are even more pressing.

Officers met the descending Kolchin at the gate’s security bridge and subsequently took him into custody.  Unlike his German predecessors, for whom police say “there has been no determination on charges,” Kolchin is being criminally charged.  He now faces disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, reckless endangerment, and obstructing governmental administration.

Nypd Security Camera Area Sign

Charges Include Disorderly Conduct and Reckless Endangerment

Everyone has heard the phrase “disorderly conduct,” but its actual application is less widely understood.  When can disorderly conduct actually be charged, and what can happen as a consequence?

First, it should be pointed out that disorderly conduct isn’t technically a crime, but a violation.  It can be charged when a person has “intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm,” or for a variety of reasons ranging from “making unreasonable noise” to making obscene gestures in a public place.  Though violations are less serious in nature than crimes, they can still be fined with up to $250 and sentenced with up to 15 days in jail.

However, Kolchin’s other charges are  crimes.  Reckless endangerment can be an A misdemeanor (S 120.20) or D felony (S 120.25); criminal trespass can be a B misdemeanor (S 140.10), A misdemeanor (S 140.15), or D felony (S 140.17); and obstructing governmental administration can be an A misdemeanor (S 195.05) or E felony (S 195.07).  What penalties could Kolchin (and others charged with these criminal classifications) be facing?

  • B Misdemeanor —  Up to three months, up to $500.
  • A Misdemeanor — Up to one year, up to $1,000.
  • E Felony — Up to four years.
  • D Felony — Up to seven years, minimum sentence of two years for violent felonies.

Unlike disorderly conduct, which is fairly broad in scope, reckless endangerment has a very brief and straightforward legal definition: “recklessly [engaging] in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person” (or, at the felony level, “a grave risk of death”).  In this particular instance, prosecutors allege it was possible that Kolchin could have dropped or dislodged an object onto an unwary pedestrian below.

Causing harm certainly wasn’t the Russian advertising graduate’s intent — he later told reporters he simply climbed the 277 foot tall bridge for fun.

Kolchin is being represented by attorney Paul Liu.  His next hearing is scheduled for Friday, August 29. In the meantime, he is being held on $5,000 bond.

As for the bridge itself, improved security is a work in progress.

“You can hold me accountable and Commissioner Bratton accountable,” said Mayor de Blasio after Kolchin’s arrest.  “We are in the process of making changes in the way we protect the bridges that are our responsibility.”

If you or someone you love has been arrested for trespassing, vandalism, or other property crimes in the New York City area, call Queens criminal defense lawyer Victor Knapp, Esq., at (718) 263-9000 to arrange a private legal consultation.  You can also contact us online.


Victor Knapp