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Woman accused of arson of police vehicles held pending trial

Patrick DeLany
York Dispatch
Protesters gather along the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and Eakins Oval  during a protest, Saturday, June 6, 2020 in Philadelphia over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.  (Tyger Williams/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

PHILADELPHIA — A federal judge has ordered a woman held without bail until her trial on charges of having set fire to two police vehicles during civil disorder in Philadelphia following protests last month.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley on Friday sided with prosecutors who argued that 33-year-old Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal was a danger to the community and a potential flight risk.

After peaceful afternoon protests May 30 over the death of George Floyd were followed by widespread property destruction, burglary and arson, a police sedan and a sport utility vehicle parked near City Hall were set afire and both were destroyed, authorities said.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that defense attorney Paul Heznecker vowed an appeal, saying nothing in his client's background warranted detention.

“The government’s purpose in seeking detention was to single her out and send a message to protest movements seeking racial justice," he said. “This is a property crime that would have resulted in bail if it were charged in state court.”

Prosecutors argued that Blumenthal put hundreds of protesters at risk and then fought off and tried to evade agents who came to arrest her. They also reported finding the goggles, backpack, and flame-retardant gloves worn by the masked woman who set fire to the police cars in the Blumenthal's home and said that the fact that she brought them to the protest suggests she set out with the intention of destroying property.

U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain sent a Tweet after Friday's ruling advising anyone who might have contributed to a bail fund for the defendant that “you can now ask for your money back.”

Authorities said in a criminal complaint that Blumenthal was identified through news footage and social media posts documenting the incident and by her online activity and a distinctive tattoo and T-shirt. Heznecker has said that investigative techniques used by the government “will be under scrutiny” during the pretrial investigation.

Floyd, who was Black, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into the unarmed and handcuffed man’s neck even as he pleaded for air and stopped moving.