The partner of open Internet activist Aaron Swartz has made a last-ditch appeal on her personal blog for more signatures on a White House petition to “fire” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann.
“Heymann saw Aaron as a scalp he could take. He thought he could lock Aaron up, get high-profile press coverage, and win high-fives from his fellow prosecutors in the lunchroom,” Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman wrote today.
Heymann is the Massachusetts Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of prosecuting Swartz, whose suicide on Jan. 11 has sparked bipartisan outrage over prosecution tactics.
The petition needs about 7,000 more signatures by Feb. 11 to reach the 25,000 signature threshold for obtaining an official White House response. (The threshold for a response was recently raised to 100,000 signatures, but apparently doesn’t apply to petitions filed before the threshold was raised.)
As of Jan. 28, the petition had only a little more than 10,500 signatures (see Main Justice’s previous coverage here.)
Stinebrickner-Kauffman said in her blog post that after a court date in December, she went up to Swartz to hug him. She wrote: “Heymann was standing maybe 10 feet away. Aaron pushed me away and hissed, ‘Not in front of Heymann. I don’t want to show Heymann that.’ It still hurts to think about that moment.”
Stinebrickner-Kauffman wrote that even if the petition doesn’t result in Heymann losing his job, “The White House’s responsibility to respond to it will open up crucial fronts in the investigation.”
Swartz’s family has blamed prosecutors for using pressure tactics, including threats of up to 35 years in prison, for Swartz’s suicide.
But Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, Heymann’s boss, has defended her office’s conduct as appropriate. Her office had offered Swartz a plea deal requiring six months in prison in exchange for Swartz pleading guilty to allegations he had unlawfully downloaded massive numbers of academic papers from the online database JSTOR.
A similar petition to remove Ortiz from office has 52,000 signatures and has met the threshhold for a White House response.