We previously discussed how police involved in protests that become violent often end up arresting many innocent people and that many of these people are never even charged with crimes. But when it comes to more serious crimes like arson, detectives perform thorough investigations to recognize the person responsible. In a recent case, the FBI even managed to track down a woman in Philadelphia who was filmed setting a police car on fire.
Investigating the Chaos
A long time ago, those responsible for these violent acts were harder to track down because there was rarely video footage and those involved rarely wanted to cooperate with authorities to report someone that supported their cause. This was especially true if the perpetrator wore a mask that made witnesses unable to identify the person responsible. The fact that it was easy for people to get away with crimes in the chaos of a protest turned into a riot has even inspired agitators from both sides to attend Black Lives Matters protests to incite violence.
But in modern times, it is a lot harder for people to remain anonymous even if they are wearing a face covering. That is in part due to the fact that practically everything we do in public is filmed these days. The proliferation of smart cameras and other monitoring video of public areas now makes it possible for the police to examine footage of major public areas for crimes committed. One woman in Philadelphia found this out the hard way after she was charged with arson of a police vehicle.
How the FBI Caught a Police Car Arsonist
After a day of peaceful protests in Philadelphia, things turned violent. Two police vehicles were burned outside of the local precinct and news footage of the riot showed a woman in a blue shirt may have been responsible. Closer photos of the woman in question were posted to social media within hours. The footage was enough to convince the FBI that the woman was responsible for the arsons.
While she wore a facial covering, the woman had distinctive tattoos and a unique shirt. In fact, her shirt was so original they were quickly able to trace it back to the Etsy seller that sold the design. From there, investigators were able to look at the social media accounts tied to buyers of the shirt. They soon found the Linked-In showing one of the woman’s tattoos up close and identified that they belonged to a woman named Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, a 33 year-old massage therapist.
The FBI was then able to obtain 500 images of the event shot by another photographer that showed the woman with the same tattoos and shirt only without her mask on. The pictures confirmed they found the right suspect. She has now been charged with the arson of the vehicles. The fact that she brought flame-retardant gloves and protective goggles to the protest is being used as evidence that she planned to act in such a way before attending the event.
Penalties for the Arson of Police Vehicles
Because Blumenthal is being charged at a federal level, she could be facing up to 80 years imprisonment. In California, malicious arson of a structure still in use by the owner (including a car) is usually punishable by 8 years imprisonment, but you can face additional sentencing enhancements of up to 5 years if more than one structure was burned. It seems no one was injured in this case, but if they were, this could also add additional sentencing, especially if the victim was a police officer or firefighter.
If you have been accused of arson, or any other crime related to a protest, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with criminal lawyer Peter Liss.