Federal authorities on announced Monday that a 23-year-old man has been charged in connection to to the May 28 fire set to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct station during protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
Branden Wolfe, of St. Paul, was charged with aiding and abetting arson at the police station after admitting the authorities he had been in the building, took property, and pushed a wooden barrel into the fire, the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Minnesota announced Monday.
The fire was set to the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct—where the four officers involved in Floyd’s death were stationed—three days after Floyd, 46, died during a violent arrest.
“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,” prosecutors alleged while announcing the charges. “Investigators recovered from the scene charred metal barrel rings.”
The incident, which left the precinct “overrun and heavily damaged due to vandalism and arson,” was viewed as the start of nationwide chaos amid demonstrations against police brutality and racial inequality.
Prosecutors alleged that on June 3, St. Paul officers were called to a home-improvement store about an individual carrying a baton and wearing body armor and a law-enforcement duty belt, trying to get into the store. Store employees later told authorities Wolfe had been working as a security guard at the store—but was fired earlier that day after he referred to social-media posts about stealing from the damaged precinct.
When officers located the 23-year-old, prosecutors alleged he was wearing “multiple items stolen from the Third Precinct, including body armor, a police-issue duty belt with handcuffs, an earphone piece, baton, and knife.”
“Wolfe’s name was handwritten in duct tape on the back of the body armor,” prosecutors alleged. “Law enforcement later recovered from Wolfe’s apartment additional items belonging to the Minneapolis Police Department, including a riot helmet, 9mm pistol magazine, police radio, and police issue overdose kit.”
During a police interview, Wolfe admitted to being inside the Third Precinct on May 28, taking property from inside, and even pushed a wooden barrel into the fire. Wolfe also identified himself in photos that showed him holding a police baton in front of the police station, as smoke and flames are visible behind him.
Last week, Minneapolis Attorney General Keith Ellison charged the three other former Minneapolis cops—Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng—involved in Floyd’s death with aiding and abetting second-degree murder while committing a felony and with aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence.
Ellison also upgraded the charges against ex-officer Derek Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes after the 46-year-old was arrested on May 25 for allegedly using counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.
Chauvin, 44, now faces second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter charges alleging he caused Floyd’s death through “culpable negligence,” including using a restraint that police are taught is “inherently dangerous.”
All four cops were fired May 26, as explosive footage of the botched arrest led to an international outcry and calls for a federal investigation into an incident some called a “legalized lynching.”
On Sunday, nine Minneapolis City Council members announced they intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department amid reporting by the Star Tribune on how the city’s Third Precinct allegedly served as a “playground” for rogue cops like Chauvin.