A Tacoma, Washington, woman has been arrested on charges related to the torching of five police vehicles in Seattle last month.
Seattle has been rocked by protests since the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. The Seattle demonstrations have culminated in protesters occupying a section of the city.
Seattle police have estimated that on May 30, when the vehicles were burned, there were as many as 10,000 people involved in protests that in some cases devolved into riots and led to hundreds of buildings in the city being damaged.
Margaret Aislinn Channon, 25, was arrested Thursday and charged with burning five police vehicles following an investigation by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Seattle police, the Department of Justice announced in a news release.
According to a criminal complaint, Channon, who’s facing five federal counts of arson, was identified when investigators matched video taken during the protests as well as images posted on social media from that day’s unrest to images of Channon that she had posted on social media. The complaint said distinguishing features, such as tattoos, were used in the process of identifying her.
“This defendant was captured by multiple cameras using an accelerant, lit like a blowtorch, to start fires in five vehicles — putting the public at risk and creating the very real possibility of a structure fire amidst the throng of people protesting downtown,” U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran said. “I commend the painstaking work of law enforcement using a variety of images to identify the defendant and locate her so she can be held accountable.”
“The number one mission of the FBI is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States. The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to express their opinions and peacefully protest. What it does not provide is the right to invoke violence under the guise of free speech,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Raymond Duda of the Seattle Field Office.
The complaint said that after the first vehicle to be burned was vandalized by others, “Channon held a spray can up to a small flame and lit the exhaust. Channon sprayed the rear hatch of the Vehicle 5 for several seconds, until the flame went out. Channon then re-ignited the can’s exhaust. She leaned into the open rear door of the vehicle and sprayed the back seat with flame.
“Shortly thereafter, she left the area of Vehicle 5. After she left, the vehicle was smoking heavily, and flames were visible inside. Shortly thereafter, flames filled the passenger compartment and rose well above the roof of the vehicle. The fire progressed until Vehicle 5 was fully engulfed in flames.”
Video footage showed that Channon then went into an Old Navy store that was being looted and emerged with an article of clothing that was later used to help identify her, according to the criminal complaint.
After appearing to strike the passenger side window of another vehicle, “Channon stood at the smashed passenger window and sprayed flaming exhaust from a can into Vehicle 3. Smoke then started rising from the vehicle,” the complaint added.
“She then ran away from Vehicle 3 towards Vehicle 4 with the flaming can in her hand. Channon next sprayed flames into the front passenger window of Vehicle 4 and smoke began to emanate from Vehicle 4.”
The complaint said that Channon repeated the process with another vehicle, aided by a male suspect who was not identified, and that the fire from that vehicle then spread to another vehicle.
“Flames from the vehicles extended vertically from the vehicles and at times flared high enough to touch the roof/awning of the Nordstrom store in front of which the vehicles were parked,” the complaint said.
Channon was identified from images taken during protests, as well as those from three Instagram accounts, court documents said. Images of Channon’s tattoos as shown on Instagram were compared to the tattoos of the woman shown on video setting the fires, according to the complaint.
Investigators were also able to compare high-quality images from the protests to the Washington State Department of Licensing photo on file for Channon.
“[B]oth the arsonist and Channon in her DOL photograph have unique eyebrows. As depicted in Channon’s DOL photograph, she has both tattooed eyebrows and natural eyebrows, with the two failing to line-up perfectly,” the complaint said.
“This results in uneven eyebrows that are thicker and thinner in certain places and are thus irregularly shaped. Specifically, the tattooed portion of Channon’s right eyebrow has a steep, sharp peak that is not seen on her left eyebrow. This unique eyebrow feature is also seen on the arsonist in still frames of a video taken on May 30, 2020, while the arsonist was outside the Old Navy store (after burning Vehicle 5).”
The complaint also said that from the tattoos, they could connect Channon with a missing persons report filed in Texas in 2019 that described her tattoos in an effort to locate her.
“Arson is a crime of violence,” ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Blais said in the news release. “While we stand by every American’s Constitutional right to protest, when someone turns to violence, we will work tirelessly to investigate their crimes.
“We are working shoulder-to-shoulder with our local, state and federal partners to bring those responsible for actions such as this to justice.”
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