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Four Rioters Federally Indicted For Torching Patrol Cars In Philadelphia

Philadelphia, PA – Four rioters are facing federal charges for allegedly torching two police vehicles during violent uprisings in May.

William McSwain, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, announced the charges against 24-year-old Ayoub Tabri, 25-year-old Khalif Miller, 30-year-old Carlos Matchett, and 29-year-old Anthony Smith on Thursday, KYW reported.

Smith, a Youthbuild Charter School social studies teacher and Philly for Real Justice representative, was charged with arson for his alleged role in setting a Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) patrol car on fire near City Hall on May 30, according to the news outlet.

He was indicted along with Miller and Matchett.

The trio allegedly placed combustible materials into the patrol vehicle as it was parked near Market Street and Broad Street, then tossed in a road flare, KYW reported.

The vehicle was a complete loss.

Smith’s attorney, Paul Hetznecker, accused prosecutors of charging his client because of his role as a “political activist.”

“To charge him federally, I think is outrageous and as I said, it’s another example of the political overreach by the federal government,” Hetznecker told KYW.

“Utilizing the awesome power of the federal government to target activists and select them for federal prosecution during one of the most important social justice movements in our history sends a dangerous message,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

He further alleged that the case against Smith is “part of a broader effort by this administration to criminalize and quell dissent expressed by progressive political movement.”

McSwain said that Smith’s alleged criminal behavior – not his political stance – is what landed him the charges.

“Mr. Smith was not in any way targeted by my office. I knew nothing about Mr. Smith or his affiliations until the investigation was nearly complete,” he told KYW. “We do not investigate people at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We investigate alleged criminal behavior.”

Tabri was indicted for a separate incident involving the arson of a Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) vehicle, which also occurred on May 30, KYW reported.

Police said that two PSP SUVs were parked on the Interstate 676 on-ramp in an attempt to block rioters from accessing the highway.

Tabri and other members of his group allegedly attacked the patrol vehicles, shattering the windows and stealing fire extinguishers, road flares, and other police-issued riot equipment from inside, KYW reported.

According to investigators, Tabri threw a road flare into one of the PSP vehicles, which quickly became engulfed.

The flames also caught a nearby trooper’s uniform on fire, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Tabri has been indicted on charges of obstructing law enforcement in the commission of their duties during a civil disorder and two counts of arson, KYW reported.

Federal prosecutors in New Jersey also charged Matchett with inciting a riot back in June, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to prosecutors, he was responsible for urging rioters to loot stores in Atlantic City just one day after he allegedly torched the patrol vehicle in Philadelphia.

Police said he was carrying a gasoline-filled jar, a knife, and an axe on him at the time of his New Jersey arrest, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“You’re not going to be able to torch police cars and do things like that with impunity,” McSwain said of the indictments.

He noted that video footage from the riots aided law enforcement officers with their investigation into the arsons, KYW reported.

“You can’t go anywhere in Philadelphia without being on video, especially during these protests,” McSwain said. “So my message is, you’re being watched.”

McSwain said that his office supports peaceful protest and the protection of First Amendment rights.

“But violence is not speech,” he said, according to KYW. “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.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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