Two Men Charged for Arson of Pennsylvania State Police Vehicle During May 2020 Civil Unrest
PHILADELPHIA (STL.News) Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Ayoub Tabri, 25, of Arlington, VA, and Lester Fulton Smith, 26, of Philadelphia, PA were each charged by Superseding Indictment with two counts of arson and one count of obstruction of law enforcement in connection with the arson of a Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) vehicle.
Smith was arrested earlier this morning and will have his initial appearance in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts today. Tabri was arrested in October 2020 and remains in federal custody.
On May 30, 2020, based on a report of a large gathering of protesters, PSP troopers responded to the intersection of Broad and Vine Streets in Philadelphia at the overpass of Interstate 676 (also known as “I-676” or the “Vine Street Expressway”). PSP placed two SUVs at an on-ramp for I-676 near Broad and Vine Streets. PSP troopers responded to this area to prevent protestors from gaining access to I-676 and endangering themselves or others by demonstrating on the highway and impeding motorists’ travel.
At approximately 3:40 p.m., a group of individuals began attacking the two PSP SUVs, which were designated as PSP Units K1-7 and K1-17. Both PSP SUVs were locked and contained PSP-issued rifles and other police equipment. Eventually, individuals shattered the windows of both PSP SUVs and stole PSP equipment stored inside, including road flares.
PSP troopers assigned to the area reported that individuals then threw lit road flares into K1-17, igniting a fire which engulfed that SUV. As alleged in the Superseding Indictment, Tabri and Smith maliciously damaged and destroyed vehicle K1-17 by means of fire.
One PSP trooper, who was standing near K1-17, was hit by a lit road flare and part of his uniform caught fire. This trooper’s left hand also suffered burn injuries when he reached into K1-17 to retrieve a rifle in order to prevent individuals from stealing it. He was treated for his injuries on the scene by EMS. Due to the fire damage to K1-17 and the physical damage to K1-7, both vehicles were destroyed.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the entire Department of Justice will always support peaceful protest – we are sworn to protect the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. “But that does not cover committing arson and other violent acts. Here, the defendants allegedly destroyed a police vehicle, endangering many lives including police officers and peaceful protestors nearby. This conduct is not free speech and is not protected by our constitution; rather, it is criminal.”
“The public has a right to peacefully protest, but when a peaceful demonstration turns violent and destruction of property ensues, that conduct will not be tolerated by any law enforcement agency,” said Major Richard D’Ambrosio, Pennsylvania State Police Area IV Commander. “Our department thanks all of the assisting local, state, and federal agencies to hold those accountable for their criminal actions.”
“The arson of a Pennsylvania State Police vehicle by these individuals, which the indictment alleges, will always be vigorously investigated by law enforcement,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “ATF remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to seek justice for those individuals who use protest to conceal their acts of violence.”
“Tabri and Smith allegedly engaged in a deliberate effort to destroy a police vehicle, setting it ablaze in the middle of a crowded public street,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “They used lawful demonstrations as cover to foment chaos, and in doing so, put people’s lives at risk. Those who sought to turn peaceful protests into riots must be held accountable for their violent criminal acts.”
If convicted, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of up to seven years in prison, 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 case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the Pennsylvania State Police, and is 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.