Woman detained after climbing Southwest Key building in protest

Therese Okoumou

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A woman who spent nearly eight hours on the Southwest Key building after climbing it in protest of immigration polices has come down and been detained.

Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, was live streaming as she climbed the building located at 6002 Jain Lane around 12:14 p.m. Wednesday. Okoumou previously climbed the Statue of Liberty in a similar fashion in protest of immigration policies.

During Wednesday’s protest, according to Austin police, Okoumou seemed comfortable standing on a narrow, 3-foot tall steel beam, where she was doing acrobatics. 

Later in the night, she reportedly started climbing down, on her own, before jumping off the building about 15 feet from the ground. On landing — on her feet — she was immediately surrounded by police, then put on a stretcher and loaded in an ambulance for evaluation. Okoumou is said to have put a fist in the air as she was being loaded in the ambulance.

“The plight of migrant children affected by this system is at the forefront of my activism.” Oukoumo said in a GoFundMe video. “My wish is that my goodwill and kindness offer hope to asylum seekers who have been callously kept in detention centers by our government.” 

Okoumou’s friends, who spent the last few weeks planning this mission, said they want to activate the country into showing kindness for asylum seekers kept in Southwest Key detention centers. 

“We will, without a doubt, make you [Southwest Key] regret every dollar that you have taken from this enterprise from separating and incarcerating kids. And then you will also add to your list to imprisoning our friend and our sister, Patricia Oukoumou” said Louis Moncivias, who says he helped Okoumou organize the protest and do the recon beforehand. 

Although Okoumou had no injuries, she was transported to the hospital as a precaution.

According to APD Officer Bino Cadenas, throughout the incident’s eight hours, 70 officers of five ranks attended to the scene. All patrol officers in the area were called to the scene, some to handle the protest and some to control crowds, or any other concerns as a result of the ongoing event.

According to Lt. Frank Rodriguez, of the Austin Police Department, the first priority of responders was bringing Okoumou down safely. Negotiators talked to the woman, explaining that her mission was accomplished and her message was out. Rodriguez reported that they would not use force to remove her from the building, as she could have slipped and fallen.

Okoumou was allegedly yelling “Free the Children,” as she scaled the building with a backpack containing unknown contents. Incidentally, several hundred students were inside of the building when the woman began her protest.

On her website, Okoumou wrote about a Valentine’s Day call to action where she was going to deliver postcards to children detained. A Facebook post made earlier Wednesday morning Okoumou talked about delivering the last of the postcards and an event at Southwest Key

In December, Okoumou was found guilty of trespassing and other charges after climbing 150 feet to the feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York City on July 4, according to the NBC affiliate there.  Cadenas confirmed that she would be arrested for trespassing, as the building’s property manager will press charges. 

According to APD, the protest was well-organized, orchestrated and designed for media attention. Okoumou specifically targeted the location.

Southwest Key, an Austin-based nonprofit, faced criticism last July of its facilities housing undocumented immigrant minors separated from their families.

The company has shelters across the nation including in Houston and El Paso. 

A spokesperson for Southwest Key says it’s misunderstood and that it’s mission is to take care of children and reunite them with their families. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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