PHILADELPHIA – Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Derrick Weatherbe, 29, of Philadelphia, PA, was charged by Indictment with arson related to an incident which occurred during the violent civil unrest in late May of last year. The defendant made his initial appearance in federal court this afternoon.
Following peaceful protests in Philadelphia in the early afternoon of May 30, 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, civil unrest began to unfold later that afternoon and into the following day that resulted in widespread looting, burglary, arson, destruction of property, and other violent acts. The Indictment alleges that on May 31, 2020, the defendant maliciously damaged and destroyed the Lowe’s Home Improvement store located at 1500 North 50th Street in West Philadelphia by setting it on fire. He is charged with one count of malicious damage by means of fire of a building used in interstate commerce.
According to court documents, store surveillance cameras allegedly showed a man with distinct clothing and tattoos, later identified as the defendant, make his way through the entry vestibule and pick up what appears to be a utility lighter and containers of lighter fluid. Weatherbe is then allegedly seen on surveillance video carrying these items into the middle of the store, where the fire is set less than two minutes later as indicated by a flash of light. He is then allegedly seen fleeing from the store.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the entire Department of Justice will always support peaceful protest – we are sworn to protect the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. “But that does not cover destructive rioting, looting, committing arson and other violent acts. Here, the defendant allegedly set a fire in the middle of a business, potentially endangering many lives including those of police officers and firefighters who responded to the scene, and as a result he is now being prosecuted for a federal crime.”
“The alleged acts of the defendant are extremely careless and dangerous, which could have caused serious injury or loss of life to first responders and others in the community,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of Philadelphia’s Field Division. “ATF, along with our partners at the Philadelphia Fire Department and the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office will continue our efforts to ensure public safety. Our investigators will pursue and apprehend anyone who uses fire to damage property or endanger lives in our city.”
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Priya T. De Souza.