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Suspect arrested in stabbing of anti-vaccination protester during L.A. street brawl

A suspect in a hoodie and bandana holds a knife.
Police released this image of a person believed responsible for stabbing an anti-vaccination protester in front of City Hall last month.
(LAPD)

Los Angeles police have arrested a suspect in the stabbing of an anti-vaccination protester in downtown Los Angeles last month, according to the LAPD.

An investigation into a second stabbing at the same event, of a counterprotester, remains ongoing, police said.

Police initially identified the suspect as Eric Cohen, 30, of Long Beach, but Cohen’s family and friends identified her as Nina Cohen, and said she is a transgender woman.

Cohen was arrested Wednesday night after police served “multiple search warrants” in L.A. and Orange counties, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

L.A. County prosecutors have since charged Cohen with assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records. Cohen was arraigned Friday and transferred to the L.A. County sheriff’s inmate reception center on $1-million bail, according to inmate records.

Katharine Drechsler, Cohen’s mother, said she was extremely concerned that officials had identified her daughter as a man by using her birth name, and that they would therefore place her in men’s facilities.

“I’m not sure she’ll survive to trial in the environment she’s in, and I’m scared,” Drechsler said.

Officer Mike Lopez, an LAPD spokesman, said Saturday that Cohen was asked about her gender identity during the intake process and, at least while in LAPD custody, was segregated from the general male population in line with department guidelines for transgender detainees.

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Lopez said the Sheriff’s Department would have been made aware of how Cohen identified when she was transferred to county custody. The sheriff’s office did not respond Saturday to questions about where Cohen will be held beyond the reception center.

Cohen could not be reached for comment.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore, speaking on KTLA-TV on Thursday morning, touted Cohen’s arrest as proof that the LAPD was pursuing perpetrators of protest violence.

“Our arrest last night demonstrates that we’ll put whatever resources we need to identify those responsible for such violence and bring them to the criminal justice system,” Moore said.

Protests around some of the nation’s most fraught political issues are devolving into street fights in L.A., and police have struggled to respond.

Police previously released images of a suspect clad in all black and holding a blade in the days after the Aug. 14 attack, asking the public for help in identifying the person. The stabbing victim suffered a punctured lung and a lacerated heart in the incident, police said, but was expected to survive.

The stabbing was one of two that occurred during a violent street brawl between anti-vaccination demonstrators and counterprotesters near City Hall and LAPD headquarters.

The brawl was one of a growing number of confrontations that have erupted at protests in recent months and sparked criticism of the LAPD response.

Video shared by anti-vaccination protesters and their supporters captured the stabbing. Counterprotesters, meanwhile, shared other video capturing a second incident in which a counterprotester was stabbed while being beaten by several anti-vaccination protesters.

When confronted with the latter footage, police said they were also investigating that stabbing but that the victim — who appeared to be wearing protective gear — hadn’t come forward. On Thursday, Moore said police still hadn’t identified the victim.

In announcing Cohen’s arrest Thursday, the LAPD also issued images of the suspect in the second stabbing — a man in a black face covering and a gray hat — and asked anyone with information to call Major Crimes Division detectives at (213) 486-7362.

The LAPD made no arrests at the time of the fight, even though officers were on hand and rushed into the street in riot gear to separate the two sides.

After the event, counterprotesters and independent journalists accused the LAPD of showing a bias in favor of the anti-vaccination protesters and other extremists, including Proud Boys, who they said started the fight.

Others on the right accused counterprotesters — whom they labeled “antifa” — for starting the violence.

An analysis by The Times found evidence that the brawl began after a member of the anti-vaccination crowd shoved a counterprotester who had confronted him about harassing a group of young men on skateboards.

Moore has denied bias and said it was the LAPD’s intention to maintain peace while allowing protesters to exercise their 1st Amendment rights — regardless of their political position.

Right-wing activists have labeled Cohen a violent extremist.

Friends and family of Cohen described her as a leader in Long Beach’s LGBTQ community and a veteran activist who has helped the homeless and LGBTQ youth throughout the pandemic and spoken out against anti-transgender bigotry.

Cohen’s mother said she knew nothing about what happened at the protest, but knows her daughter to be a “righteous” person who has stood up for herself and others since childhood.

“She’s always the one that fought off the bullies,” her mother said. “She’s the one where, when someone was picked on after school, she protected them.”


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