Activist state

Arlington, Va. man who torched Pennsylvania state police cruiser during Philadelphia racial injustice protests has been convicted

The first protester to be convicted of torching police cruisers during the 2020 racial injustice protests in Philadelphia was sentenced Monday to a 364-day federal prison term — nearly nine months shy of the time that he has already spent behind bars since his arrest in 2020.

Ayoub Tabri, 25, of Arlington, Va., has been incarcerated since confessing to FBI investigators that he threw a flare into a Pennsylvania State Police car during the protests that took place. erupted in downtown after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. .

But it remains to be seen whether his sentencing was a sign of a softening stance towards those charged with similar offenses during the May 30, 2020 unrest or an outlier influenced by the unique immigration consequences that Tabri – a Moroccan citizen who has lived in the United States as a green card holder since the age of 6 – faced because of his crimes.

In announcing the punishment on Monday, U.S. District Judge Joel M. Slomsky acknowledged he was persuaded to impose a sentence of less than a year because any further action would qualify the crime as an aggravated felony, which would lead almost certainly to the expulsion of Tabri towards a country of which he does not know anybody and does not speak the language.

“I hope you realize the gravity of what you have done and the second chance you are given here today,” Judge said, addressing Tabri. “Third chances are hard.”

For his part, Tabri said he had no plans to even attend the protests when he came to town this weekend to visit friends in Philadelphia’s skateboarding community. He was caught in the moment, he said, after a day of drinking.

“My actions were immature and irresponsible,” he added. “And I deeply regret what I did that day.”

Tabri is one of six defendants who have been charged locally with torching squad cars during the May 2020 protests in Philadelphia.

Federal prosecutors initially charged the six with one count of arson carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years – a move defense attorneys decried as a “political decision” while arguing that less punitive charges were available, which would have given the courts more flexibility in examining the crimes. as spontaneous acts of protest against police brutality.

But then-US attorney Bill McSwain balked at the idea and threatened on Twitter to pursue lengthy prison sentences, saying the fires they started were endangering the lives of hundreds of peaceful protesters. gathered that day.

Since McSwain left office last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia has extended plea offers to several of the defendants, offering to let them avoid the threat of a mandatory seven-year sentence by pleading guilty to a lesser charge with a maximum sentence of five years. years.

Tabri was among the first to agree to the deal, pleading guilty in March to one count of obstructing law enforcement during a civil disturbance.

In court on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri described the plea agreement and the government’s reconsideration of the arson charge as part of “the Department of Justice’s holistic view of these cases across the country”.

Yet he pushed the judge to sentence Tabri to between three and four years – a sentence that would have triggered the consequences of deportation that Tabri hoped to avoid.

“The accused’s act of launching a flare into a police vehicle located in an area densely populated by law enforcement officers and protesters undoubtedly created a substantial risk of death and bodily harm. serious harm to others,” he said in court documents filed ahead of the hearing.

Tabri was among the raucous crowd of protesters who surrounded two Pennsylvania State Police cars parked near the intersection of Broad and Vine streets that day to steer protesters away from I-676. Protesters attacked cars with scooters, hammers, skateboards, bicycle locks, crowbars and even their hands and fists.

Video of the scene shared on social media showed Tabri – wearing a black mask and t-shirt – carrying a skateboard in one hand and a flare in another, throwing the flare into the one of the damaged cars.

Prosecutors acknowledged on Monday that several other flares were thrown at the vehicle by others in the crowd – one of which hit a Pennsylvania state trooper standing nearby, setting his uniform on fire and burning his hand — but so far investigators have only identified one other mob member they could charge federally.

That man – Lester Fulton Smith, 26, of Philadelphia – is expected to plead guilty next week.

As for Tabri, his attorney, federal public defender Nancy MacEoin, described him as an otherwise law-abiding young man who worked at a family-owned DC-area restaurant. He had only come to Philadelphia that day, she said, to visit friends in the local skateboarding community.

She noted that as soon as the FBI identified him from videos and photos posted on social media, he confessed, expressed remorse and agreed to let investigators search his online accounts for additional evidence.

“It was a moment where he got caught up and chose – unfortunately – to vent his anger,” MacEoin said. “And for that, he accepts full responsibility.”

The other four ongoing arson cases stemming from the protests involve the burning of Philadelphia police cars parked outside City Hall that day. One defendant – Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, a 35-year-old massage therapist from Jenkintown – pleaded guilty to a deal similar to Tabri’s in March.

The other three — against prominent Philadelphia activist and social studies professor Anthony “Ant” Smith, 31; Khalif Miller, 26, of Philadelphia; and Carlos Matchett, 32, of Atlantic City – are due to go on trial later this year.