Security forces airman accused of trying to burn cop car during protests while wearing Air Force gas mask

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A security forces airman from Hill Air Force Base in Utah has been arrested by federal authorities and accused of burning a police car during a May 30 protest in downtown Salt Lake City.

Airman 1st Class Larry Raynold Williams Jr., 22, was arrested at his home Wednesday morning by the FBI and members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah said in a release later that day. He faces a federal arson charge. He was charged with one count of using fire and explosive devices to damage a Salt Lake City Police Department patrol car.

That car was flipped and burned by a group of protesters that day. Five people so far, including Williams, have been charged with burning that police car, Justice Department officials said.

Williams was allegedly photographed wearing his Air Force-issued training gas mask when he took part in the protest-turned-riot, Justice officials said, which helped lead to his identification by authorities.

The Air Force Personnel Center said Williams is an entry controller, in the 3PO security forces career field, who belongs to the 75th Security Forces Squadron at Hill . He entered active duty on May 7, 2019. Entry controllers perform duties including manning the gates at bases.

The Office of Special Investigations helped with the investigation, Justice officials said, as did the Salt Lake City police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Utah Department of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. attorneys from the Utah U.S. Attorney’s Office are prosecuting Williams.

Protesters demonstrate as a Salt Lake City police vehicle burns May 30. An active-duty security forces airman is one of a number of people charged in the incident. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

“Since May 30, investigators and prosecutors have engaged in a determined investigation of those who were responsible for burning the police patrol car in downtown Salt Lake City,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said. “Our intent has been to bring consequence to the lawlessness that we witnessed. While available video and photographs played a prominent role in the investigation, solid investigative efforts by agents and detectives made the difference in these arrests.”

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The protest, one of countless demonstrations nationwide that followed the death of George Floyd during an encounter with Minneapolis police days earlier, began peacefully. Justice officials said. But it turned into a “riot,” with “acts of destruction, property damage, arson and other criminal conduct.”

A police officer driving her vehicle became boxed in by protesters and could not move, Justice officials said. Fearing for her safety, she fled, according to the news release. Protesters allegedly flipped the police car, then vandalized it and set it on fire.

Williams was photographed wearing a black gas mask near the car and holding a large piece of white fabric, like a tablecloth or bedsheet, the officials alleged. Another indicted person, Christopher Rojas, allegedly lit the fabric with a cigarette lighter, the release said, and Williams allegedly threw the burning fabric into the overturned car’s window. It partly landed inside the car, and partially outside on the street.

Investigators identified the gas mask Williams was allegedly photographed wearing as a M50 Joint Service General Protective Mask. When photographs of the gas mask were clarified, the release said, it showed markings consistent with those from Hill, including “TRNG ONLY” written in white marker on the mask’s attached M61 filter canister. A lot number could also be seen on the canister, Justice officials said.

On Aug. 13, the readiness squadron at Hill conducted a general inventory check of the equipment issued to Williams and members of his group during an exercise, including documenting the serial and lot numbers of each piece of equipment. Justice officials said the lot number for one of the gas canisters assigned to Williams matched the number on the canister in the photographs.

The release said that Williams was also observed unmasked during the demonstration, and that several photographs were used to identify him.

Williams was scheduled to make an initial appearance on the arson charge Thursday afternoon before a U.S. magistrate judge.

About

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.

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