By Kate Dempsey
Councilwoman Inna Vernikov was arraigned on Nov. 2 with one criminal possession of a firearm after being spotted open-carrying a pistol at the Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Club’s protest held on Oct. 12 in photos posted on social media.
Vernikov turned herself in and surrendered her firearm a day after the protest. She now faces one count of criminal possession of a firearm near “sensitive locations,” which includes schools and protests, under new legislation passed last year. The charge is a low-level class E felony. If convicted, she would have to resign from City Council, as per the state’s Public Officers law. In a criminal complaint filed against her, NYPD officers found a gun resembling the one in the photos at her home, according to NY Daily News.
Protesters outside the courtroom on Thursday called for the Councilwoman’s resignation. As they picketed outside, they chanted “Vernikov, you can’t hide; you’re supporting genocide,” according to Brooklyn Paper. Vernikov, a Republican who represents the 48th District that includes neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn, won the recent re-election against Amber Adler (D) and Igor Kazatsker (R).
When asked on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 7, if she foresees any challenges in her re-election, Vernikov said, “I don’t see any challenges. I think that we have a lot of work to do. We have about 180,000 people to fight for, and I will continue doing that,” according to News 12 Brooklyn.
Vernikov’s defense argued that prosecutors will need proof beyond reasonable doubt that she was carrying a firearm, and that photos are not enough to indict her.
“In today’s world of artificial intelligence, you can put anything on social media,” Arthur Aidala, Vernikov’s defense attorney, told reporters on Thursday. “Rules of evidence are, it’s a human being who has to make these descriptions, not based on what you see on a computer screen.”
Prosecutors will have to prove the images have not been altered, and witnesses will have to take the stand in front of a grand jury.
Vernikov’s possession has received widespread condemnation from elected officials, who state that, even as an elected official, she is not above the law and must be held accountable.
“Council Member Vernikov carrying and showing off a weapon as a tool of intimidation and seeming threat of violence against protesters shows a dangerous dereliction of our duty as elected officials to help New Yorkers be and feel safe,” NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a statement on Oct. 13. “I am relieved that she has now been charged for this action and surrendered her permit.”
Governor Kathy Hocul and the office of Mayor Adams released statements, as well, stating that gun laws apply to everyone and no one is above them, according to City and State New York.
Vernikov, who, according to THE CITY, did not submit a plea, is slated to appear back in court on Jan. 24.