GAINESVILLE, Ga. - Five Georgia men used a peaceful protest against the death of George Floyd as cover to set fire to a specific officer’s marked police car, using a flare gun, authorities said.
“While using the cover of peaceful protests in Gainesville, the defendants allegedly sought out and intentionally burned a police vehicle,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said in a news release Wednesday.
A federal indictment charges all five with conspiracy and arson in the incident early June 2 involving a patrol car parked outside the apartment complex where the officer lives in Gainesville, Georgia. Others “known and unknown to the grand jury” were also involved, according to the indictment handed up Tuesday.
Online federal court records do not show defense attorneys who could comment for Bruce Anthony Thompson, 22, of Oakwood or Jesse James Smallwood, 21, Delveccho Waller, Jr., 21, Dashun Martin, 23, and Judah Coleman Bailey, 20, all of Gainesville.
The indictment does not mention either the officer to whom the car was assigned or the protests against the death of Floyd, a black man who died in late May after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
“We want our community to know we stand with them during their rights to peacefully protest,” Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said. “Sadly, agitators that do not necessarily share the same goals as our community took this opportunity to target one of our officers at his residence.”
Officers immediately put out the fire in the squad car’s rear, according to the news release.
It said a witness told investigators that he saw two people get out of an older vehicle parked near the building’s entrance, heard a loud bang, saw a bright light and then saw smoke coming out of the patrol car.
Soon after that, officers saw a car matching the witnesses’ description at a nearby gas station and convenience store. Smallwood gave permission for a search, and officers found a flare gun and three spent charges. Smallwood and his four passengers all were arrested.