U.S. Attorney McSwain Announces Charges Against Four Men for Arson of Philadelphia Police and Pennsylvania State Police Vehicles During Violent Civil Unrest
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Carlos Matchett, 30, of Atlantic City, NJ; Khalif Miller, 25, of Philadelphia, PA; and Anthony David Ale Smith, 29, of Philadelphia, PA, have been charged by Indictment for the arson of a Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) vehicle, and in a separate case, that Ayoub Tabri, 24, of Arlington, VA, has been charged by Indictment for the arson of a Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) vehicle. Both incidents occurred during violent civil unrest in Philadelphia on May 30, 2020.
Following peaceful protests in Philadelphia in the early afternoon of May 30, 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, civil unrest began to unfold later that afternoon that resulted in widespread looting, burglary, arson, destruction of property, and other violent acts.
On that day, PPD Civil Affairs Car C-109 was parked on the north side of City Hall near Broad and Market Streets. During the violent episodes that began in the vicinity of City Hall that afternoon, defendants Matchett, Miller, and Smith allegedly placed combustible materials into the vehicle, after a road flare placed in the vehicle started a fire. As a result of these acts, the PPD vehicle was destroyed. A grand jury charged each of the defendants with two counts of arson, and one count of obstructing law enforcement in the commission of their duties during a civil disorder.
On the same day and at roughly the same time, PSP troopers responded to the intersection of Broad and Vine Streets, a few blocks north of City Hall. PSP placed two patrol sport utility vehicles – marked as K1-7 and K1-17 – at the on-ramp for I-676 in an effort to prevent protestors from gaining access to the highway. Soon thereafter, a group of individuals began attacking the two vehicles. The windows of the vehicles were shattered and PSP equipment stored inside was stolen, including road flares, fire extinguishers, and “riot bags” containing additional PSP-issued equipment. Tabri allegedly threw a lit road flare into K1-17, igniting a fire that engulfed the SUV. A grand jury charged the defendant with two counts of arson, and one count of obstructing law enforcement in the commission of their duties during a civil disorder.
“I want to be clear that we at the U.S. Attorney’s Office support peaceful protest – indeed, it is part of our job to protect First Amendment freedoms. We take that responsibility very seriously. But violence is not speech. There is no right to riot, loot, rob, destroy or commit arson. If you engage in violent civil unrest and commit a federal crime in this District, we will come after you as hard as we can because residents deserve safe and secure neighborhoods, not mayhem.”
“The FBI remains committed to protecting the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment freedoms,” said Philadelphia Division Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Driscoll. “Violence and destruction of property jeopardize the rights and safety of all citizens, including peaceful demonstrators. Today’s indictments send the message that if you seek to hijack peaceful protests to pursue violent and extremist agendas, the FBI and its law enforcement partners will bring you to justice.”
“These individuals were not in the City to participate in a peaceful protest: instead, it appears they posed as protestors and allegedly set fire to a Pennsylvania State Police vehicle and a Philadelphia Police vehicle,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “Arson is an extremely violent act which presents a tremendous threat to public safety. We will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to seek justice during these tumultuous times.”
“Thousands peacefully assembled and protested throughout Philadelphia following the killing of George Floyd in May of 2020,” said Brian A. Michael, Special Agent in Charge for HSI Philadelphia. “Today’s indictments demonstrate how law enforcement successfully works together to pursue violent opportunists who commit criminal acts that undermine the peaceful protestors’ message. HSI works closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to investigate, identify and hold accountable individuals who commit malicious, destructive, unlawful acts.”
“The Pennsylvania State Police thanks all of the partnering local, state, and federal agencies that assisted with this investigation,” said Captain James Kemm, commander of the Pennsylvania State Police Troop K. “We respect the public’s right to peacefully protest, but violence and destruction of property will not be tolerated.”
If convicted, all four defendants face a mandatory minimum of seven years in prison, and a maximum possible sentence of 65 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $750,000.
The Matchett, Miller, and Smith case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Philadelphia Police Department; and the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office; with assistance from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. The Tabri case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the Pennsylvania State Police. Both cases are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.