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Woman gets probation for stabbing in 2021 anti-vax protest melee at LAPD headquarters

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 14, 2021 - - Advocates against vaccine mandates confront pro-vaccine advocates in front of the L.A.P.D. Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on August 14, 2021. One man was stabbed during the melee and was taken by paramedics to a nearby hospital. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A protest against vaccine mandates turned into a brawl in August 2021 outside LAPD headquarters downtown. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A Long Beach woman arrested in a stabbing that took place during an anti-vaccine protest turned street fight outside of Los Angeles police headquarters in 2021 will receive probation under the terms of a plea deal reached last week, according to the district attorney's office.

Nina Cohen, 32, pleaded no contest to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and will be placed on probation for two years if she completes a community service and anger management regimen over the next year, according to Venusse Navid, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

Cohen was also ordered to stay away from the victim, who has not been publicly identified. The victim suffered a "lacerated heart and punctured lung," according to police and could be seen bleeding profusely in the street during the melee.

Cohen was one of dozens of protesters involved in a chaotic brawl that erupted in downtown L.A. in August 2021. Hundreds of people opposed to city ordinances requiring masks or proof of vaccination to enter businesses descended on City Hall.

Read more: One person stabbed as COVID anti-vaxxers and counterdemonstrators clash in front of L.A. City Hall

The protest became a melting pot of fringe right-wing causes — law enforcement sources and extremism researchers previously told The Times several members of the Proud Boys were in attendance, while some demonstrators could be seen holding signs touting conspiracy theories about vaccines.

The protest descended into violence when some of the anti-vaccine demonstrators crossed 1st Street to confront a group of black-clad counterdemonstrators. Video posted online at the time showed a group of young skateboarders claiming they had been threatened by anti-vaccination protesters. When a counterprotester challenged the person pointed out by the skateboarders, that person violently shoved the counterprotester.

People in red hats brawl with people wearing black clothes and masks.
Opponents of vaccine mandates, left, confront counterprotesters during the August 2021 melee. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A melee soon erupted. Video from the scene showed members of the anti-vaccination crowd screaming "F—! Antifa!" and "Unmask them all!" and swinging water bottles at the heads of the other group. Other footage captured a counterprotester, later identified as Cohen, swinging a knife at the anti-vaccination demonstrators.

Counterprotesters previously told The Times a member of their group was also stabbed, but that person refused to cooperate with police, so LAPD never made an arrest in the case. Frank Stoltze, a reporter for KPCC — the public radio station now rebranded as LAist — was also pushed and kicked by several members of the anti-vaccination group that day. Police said he declined to file a report.

In the aftermath of the brawl, LAPD received heavy criticism for its response. While the department has routinely shut down protests around left-leaning causes that were far less violent, officers downtown that day did little to separate the groups as they were squaring off to fight. Even after the stabbing, police did not declare an unlawful assembly.

Read more: Violence at anti-vaccine protest brings new criticism of LAPD tactics, claims of bias

LAPD Chief Michel Moore told The Times in 2021 that he had no knowledge members of the historically violent Proud Boys group were on scene, despite researchers and sources in his own department saying otherwise.

While many of the counterprotesters have claimed they were only defending themselves in the brawl, it was not clear if a self-defense claim was asserted in Cohen's case. Her attorney declined to comment on the plea deal. Navid did not respond to additional questions about the appropriateness of the deal, given the severity of the injuries suffered by Cohen's victim.

The plea deal appears to be in line with others struck in recent cases of protest violence in L.A.. Last year, a man linked to right-wing groups who slammed a baton over an independent journalist's head during chaotic demonstrations outside a Koreatown spa also received probation on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.