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Woman pleads to lesser counts in 2020 police vehicle fires

March 20, 2022 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A woman charged with setting fire to two police vehicles during civil disorder in Philadelphia following 2020 protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has pleaded guilty to lesser offenses in an agreement with federal prosecutors.

Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, 35, pleaded guilty last week to two counts of obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder, each carrying a maximum five-year term, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. She would have faced a seven-year minimum sentence if convicted of arson.

Defense attorney Paul Hetznecker called the deal “appropriate.” He called the original charges “political” and an overreaction to crimes that he maintained should have been pursued in state court.

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A police sedan and a sport utility vehicle outside City Hall were set afire and destroyed in violence following the May 2020 protests. Prosecutors argued that Blumenthal — identified through news footage and social media posts, her online activity and a distinctive tattoo and T-shirt — put hundreds of protesters at risk and then fought off and tried to evade agents who came to arrest her.

Authorities also reported finding goggles, a backpack and flame-retardant gloves in Blumenthal’s home and suggested that bringing them to the protest suggested an intent to destroy property. But supporters called her a “political prisoner” jailed for an act of dissent against police brutality and vandalized the federal detention center in Philadelphia’s Center City, the newspaper reported.

Blumenthal, who has been in custody since her arrest, is scheduled for sentencing in June. The plea deal calls for her to pay more than $92,000 in restitution. Five other defendants are still facing federal arson counts related to police vehicles burned at the protest; prosecutors declined comment on whether they had been offered similar plea deals.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died May 25, 2020 after then-Officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee for more than 9 minutes as Floyd lay handcuffed and facedown on the street. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted last year in state court of murder, and sentenced to 22 1/2 years; he awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights.