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Man accused of burning police precinct during Floyd riots busted wearing stolen cop gear

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A man charged with taking part in the destruction and looting of a police station in Minneapolis during riots following the death of George Floyd was found to be in possession of several pieces of police gear at the time of his arrest.

Federal prosecutors have charged Branden Michael Wolfe, 23, of St. Paul, Minn., with taking part in the ransacking of the Third Police Precinct May 28, U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald said, according to KIMT.

Wolfe is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday on charges of aiding and abetting arson.

The Third Precinct building was overrun by scores of rioters last month as riots and protests began following the death of Floyd at the hands of police. Images of Floyd, who was black, being pinned to the pavement by former police officer Derek Chauvin as three other officers looked on sparked outrage in the Twin Cities region and nationwide.

The police structure in Minneapolis was heavily damaged by arson and vandalism. Investigators said multiple fires were started in the building the evening it was attacked. Officers had vacated the Third Precinct before rioters reached the building.

KIMT reported that St. Paul police officers were called to a home improvement store on June 3 regarding an individual, who was later identified as Wolfe, wearing body armor and a duty belt belonging to law enforcement personnel that included a baton as he attempted to get into the store.

Employees told police that Wolfe had been working as a security guard at the store but had been terminated earlier in the day after he made posts on social media claiming to have stolen items from the Third Precinct.

Police arrested Wolfe, noting he was wearing several items taken from the station on the night of the riot. Items included body armor, a law enforcement duty belt, handcuffs, an earphone piece, a knife, and a baton.

Officers said that Wolfe had placed a piece of duct tape with his name on it on the back of the body armor. They also said they found items belonging to the Minneapolis Police Department the suspect had in his possession “including a riot helmet, 9mm pistol magazine, police radio, and a police issue overdose kit” Wolfe had in his apartment, KIMT reported.

The criminal complaint said that Wolfe told police he was inside the Third Precinct building on the night it was attacked, burned and looted. He admitted taking property belonging to the department and moved a wooden barrel into one of the fires.

The complaint also said that Wolfe identified himself to police in a number of witness photos showing him in front of the precinct building holding a police baton as smoke and fires were visible in the background. He reportedly admitted to police that he knew pushing a barrel into the fire would ensure it would continue to burn.

It’s not clear if federal or local authorities are planning additional arrests stemming from the riots and the destruction of the Third Precinct.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, at least 570 buildings throughout the Twin Cities region have been burned out, damaged, or had windows broken during the Floyd riots.

“Some have been reduced to rubble, and at least 67 have been destroyed completely by fire. Others have reported extensive water damage or severe fire damage,” the paper reported in online editions.

The paper noted further that “a 5-mile stretch of Lake Street in Minneapolis and a 1-mile stretch of University Avenue in St. Paul’s Midway area” were the hardest-hit by rioting and looters.

The rioting led many retailers with multiple locations to close either temporarily or indefinitely, the paper said. Target announced May 29 it would be closing 47 stores in response to the rioting and looting.

Meanwhile, CNBC reported Tuesday that as many as 25,000 stores nationwide are expected to close their doors following the coronavirus pandemic, with 55-60 percent of them located in malls.

The combination of the pandemic and ongoing demonstrations and rioting is likely going to chill business activity for at least the remainder of 2020.

Jon Dougherty

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