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Prosecutors charge St. Paul man with arson over police station fire

Prosecutors charge St. Paul man with arson over police station fire
Protesters cheer as fireworks are lit and multiple fires burn near an abandoned police precinct, the site of prolonged protests over the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 28. Photo by Craig Lassig/EPA-EFE

June 9 (UPI) -- Prosecutors in Minnesota have charged a 23-year-old man from St. Paul in connection to an arson attack against a Minneapolis police station during protests demanding justice for the police involved-killing of George Floyd.

U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald on Monday announced Branden Michael Wolfe has been charged with aiding and abetting arson for the May 28 fire that greatly damaged the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct.

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Protests erupted in Minnesota before spreading nationwide over Floyd's death on May 25. Video of the incident shows Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pinning Floyd, a black man, to the ground with a knee to the back of his neck for more than eight minutes.

Days later during protests, the third precinct was set ablaze and vandalized.

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Wolfe was arrested Wednesday while wearing numerous items that were stolen from the precinct, including body armor, a police-issued duty belt with handcuffs, an earphone piece, a baton and a knife, prosecutors said, adding, Wolfe's surname was handwritten on duct tape that was adhered to the back of the body armor.

Police arrested Wolfe after being called to a St. Paul home improvement store over a complaint that a person wearing body armor and a law enforcement duty belt had tried to enter the building.

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According to court documents, Wolfe had been a security guard at the store but was fired earlier that day over social media posts he made claiming to have stolen items from the precinct during the May 28 arson attack.

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After his arrest, Wolfe told law enforcement officers he entered the precinct the night in question and stole police property, the complaint states, adding he also admitted to pushing a wooden barrel into the fire.

"Wolfe also identified himself in multiple witnesses' photographs depicting Wolfe in front of the Third Precinct holding a police baton, with smoke and flames visible in the background," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota said. "In his statement to law enforcement, Wolfe confirmed that he pushed a wooden barrel into the fire, knowing that it would help keep the fire burning."

Metal barrel rings were later recovered from the crime scene, prosecutors said.

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A police search of Wolfe's apartment discovered other items stolen from the precinct, including a riot helmet, a 9mm pistol magazine, a police radio and a police-issued overdose kit.

Wolfe is scheduled to make his first court appearance Tuesday before Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer in St. Paul.

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