Remarks of U.S. Attorney McSwain Regarding Violent Civil Unrest in Philadelphia
Saturday, October 31, 2020
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain convened a press conference today to announce federal charges against four individuals for allegedly committing arson of police vehicles during riots that occurred in Philadelphia on May 30, 2020. U.S. Attorney McSwain also addressed concerns about current civil unrest in the City.
photo courtesy of the PhillyVoice
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good afternoon and thank you for joining us. I am here today to announce criminal charges against several defendants for torching police cars during the violent civil unrest that occurred in Philadelphia in late May and early June. My law enforcement colleagues and I are also here to address the current situation in the City. Before I get into more details, I want to acknowledge and thank all the law enforcement partners standing with me here today:
- Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge from the Philadelphia Field Office of Federal Bureau of Investigation;
- Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in Charge of Philadelphia Field Division of the Division of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives;
- Brian Michael, Special Agent in Charge from the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations;
- Major Richard Ambrosio, of the Pennsylvania State Police; and
- Jared Maples, Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness
Your presence here today is a testament to our collective resolve to protect and promote two fundamental principles of our American democracy – freedom of expression and the rule of law.
This nation is grounded in freedom of speech. At its core is every American’s right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly. Just as importantly, this nation is also grounded in the rule of law. It is imperative that we preserve both – and we will. The City’s residents deserve to have their voices heard, and they deserve safe and secure neighborhoods, not mayhem.
Mayhem – in the form of rioting, looting, robbery, arson, destruction of property, attacks on police officers and other forms of violence – does not bring justice. It accomplishes nothing. If you are a protestor trying to communicate a message, engaging in mayhem obscures that message. It also turns public opinion squarely against you. And most significantly, it can land you in federal prison for a long time. Criminal behavior has been and will be met with swift and decisive action by my Office. That form of justice will be served.
Which brings me to today’s charges, stemming from the rioting and destruction that ensued in Philadelphia during the violent civil unrest following George Floyd’s death. What began as peaceful protests in Philadelphia in the early afternoon of May 30 escalated into something very different. Much of the rioting was captured on video that aired across the country. Among other things, rioters smashed store fronts, looted stores, hurled objects at the police, and torched police cars.
Among those torched police cars was a Philadelphia Police Department vehicle (Car C-109) and two Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) SUVs (numbers K1-7 and K1-17). The defendants’ alleged involvement in the burning of these vehicles is the subject of today’s charges.
In the first case, my Office has filed a three-count Indictment against Ayoub Tabri, alleging several crimes, all stemming from his alleged destruction of one of the PSP SUVs (number K1-17) that was parked near the intersection of Broad and Vine Streets near the entrance to Interstate 676 on May 30. The Indictment charges Tabri with arson, attempted arson, aiding and abetting and obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum term of seven years in prison and a maximum term of up to 65 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, a $750,000 fine, and a $300 special assessment.
On May 30, PSP troopers responded to the intersection of Broad and Vine Streets, near the overpass of I-676, based on a report of a large gathering of protesters. PSP troopers responded to this area in two SUVs to prevent protestors from gaining access to I-676 and from endangering themselves or others by demonstrating on the highway and impeding motorists’ travel.
At 3:42 p.m., a group of individuals began attacking the two PSP SUVs, which were locked and contained PSP-issued rifles and other police equipment. Individuals began striking the SUVs with various objects, including skateboards, a bike lock, and other projectiles, in addition to kicking and striking the SUVs with closed fists. Eventually, the individuals shattered the windows of both SUVs and stole PSP equipment stored inside, including road flares, fire extinguishers, and “riot bags” containing additional PSP-issued equipment. After these items were stolen, an individual sprayed the rear area of K1-17, inside and out, with an unknown liquid.
PSP troopers assigned to the area reported that individuals then threw lit road flares into K1-17, igniting the fire which engulfed that SUV. Videos taken at the scene allegedly captured Tabri throwing a lit road flare into K1-17. Fire engulfed K1-17 and ultimately destroyed it.
The harm allegedly caused by Tabri extended beyond destruction of government property. One PSP trooper, who was standing near K1-17, was hit by a lit road flare and part of his uniform caught fire. Additionally, this trooper’s left hand suffered burn injuries when he reached into K1-17 to retrieve a rifle in order to prevent it from being stolen. He was treated for his injuries on the scene by EMS.
In the second case announced today, my Office has charged three individuals, Carlos Matchett, Khalif Miller and Anthony Smith, in a three-count Indictment with arson, attempted arson, aiding and abetting, and obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder. These charges are based upon their alleged destruction of a Philadelphia Police Department Civil Affairs vehicle (Number C-109), which was parked near Philadelphia City Hall on May 30, 2020. Specifically, Counts One and Two allege that these defendants “maliciously damaged and destroyed, attempted to damage and destroy, and aided and abetted the damaging and destruction [of the PPD car] by means of fire,” and Count Three alleges that the defendants “knowingly committed acts, and aided and abetted such acts, to obstruct, impede, and interfere with law enforcement officers lawfully engaged in the lawful performance of their official duties incident to, and during the commission of, a civil disorder.” The Indictment further alleges that these defendants’ actions created a substantial risk of injury to one or more persons, including public safety officers.
All three defendants are in federal custody. My Office will be moving for detention of each of these defendants so that they remain in federal custody until their trial.
If convicted, the defendants each 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, a fine of up to $750,000, and a special assessment of $300.
A final word about Mr. Smith: as has already been reported, he is a prominent activist and one of the lead organizers of the Philadelphia Coalition for Racial Economic and Legal Justice (or Philly for REAL Justice). To state the obvious, that it not why he is now in federal prison. Mr. Smith was not “targeted” in any way by my Office. I knew nothing about Mr. Smith or his affiliations until the investigation was nearly complete and the proposed charges had been written up by dedicated and capable career federal prosecutors. We do not investigate people at the U.S. Attorney’s Office; we investigate alleged criminal behavior. A defendant’s race, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation or group membership makes no difference to me or anybody else in my Office. In our investigations and prosecutions, all we care about is whether you committed a federal crime. And if you did, you will face the consequences.
Today’s Indictments are the culmination of an incredible amount of work by the members of both case teams who began working these cases literally as these events unfolded in real time. On the Tabri Indictment, I want to acknowledge and thank the FBI; the ATF; and the Pennsylvania State Police. On the Matchett, Miller, and Smith Indictment, I want to acknowledge and thank the following law enforcement partners: the FBI; Homeland Security Investigations; the ATF; the Philadelphia Police Department; and the Philadelphia Fire Marshall’s Office – all of whom had an important hand in the investigation. I also want to acknowledge the assistance of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. And from my Office, I want to commend and thank Assistant United States Attorney Tom Perricone, Chief of the National Security Unit, who is supervising both prosecutions.
I also want to thank the leadership of the law enforcement agencies standing with me for their continued partnership with my Office. The most effective strategy for preventing and reducing crime is aggressive prosecution and strong law enforcement partnerships at every level. Our presence today demonstrates that we are united in our purpose – to keep Philadelphia safe – and united in our approach to accomplishing this goal.
Today’s federal charges are the latest in a series of cases my Office has brought stemming from the rioting and destruction that occurred during the civil unrest at the beginning of last summer. On May 30, I pledged to hold people accountable for criminal behavior during civil unrest, and we have. That is one of the main reasons why the City did not experience violent civil unrest after early June – because would-be rioters knew that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was on duty, together with our federal partners and the Philadelphia Police Department.
Unfortunately, during the past week, the City has gone backwards, with rioting and looting that began in West Philadelphia and spread to other parts of the City, in reaction to the death of Walter Wallace. Add to this the impending election on Tuesday and you have a combustible cocktail. 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, commit arson or destroy. 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. You will go to jail. It is not worth it.
At this moment in our City’s history, we can go down one of two paths. We can go down a path of healing and respect for democracy, where we work together to improve relations between law enforcement and the community, and where we have a free, fair and peaceful election next week. Or we can go down a path of destruction – a path that further divides us. I know what path I want to go down.
At this time, I would like to introduce FBI Special Agent in Charge, Mike Driscoll. He will share his remarks, and then we will all be available for your questions. Thank you.