Ex-Firefighter Accused of Throwing Fire Extinguisher Charged in US Capitol Breach

January 14, 2021 Updated: January 14, 2021

A retired Pennsylvania firefighter has been arrested and charged for allegedly striking police officers with a fire extinguisher during the U.S. Capitol riots, the Justice Department announced.

A criminal complaint identified the man as 55-year-old Robert Sanford, who has been charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, disorderly or disruptive conduct on capitol grounds, civil disorder, and assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers while engaged in the performance of official duties.

Prosecutors are alleging that Sanford is the man in a video who threw what appears to be a fire extinguisher at three U.S. Capitol Police officers at the lower west terrace of the Capitol.

After the fire extinguisher was thrown, it hit one officer in the head, according to a video (pdf) reviewed by federal authorities. That officer was wearing a helmet. The fire extinguisher ricochets and hits two other officers in the head. One of those officers was not wearing a helmet at the time. The man, identified as Sanford, allegedly turned and moved in an opposite direction after throwing the object.

Authorities were able to identify Sanford after a tipster told the FBI that Sanford had confessed to them that he was the person the bureau was looking for. The tipster told agents that Sanford had traveled to Washington on a bus with a group of people and had gone to the U.S. Capitol.

Earlier in the day, the department said they had arrested a Black Lives Matter activist who was seen storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

john earle sullivan
John Earle Sullivan in a file mugshot photograph. (Utah County Jail)

John Earle Sullivan, 26, told FBI agents last week that he was at the Capitol during the breach, according to court documents. Sullivan had illegally entered a window and was shooting footage inside the building.

Videos also showed Sullivan joining others in breaking the barricade and encouraging other protesters to enter the building, according to authorities. He was charged this week with unlawful entry, disorderly conduct, and attempted obstruction of law enforcement.

Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, said in a press conference on Tuesday that the department has opened at least 170 cases linked to the Jan. 6 events and have charged over 70 individuals.

Individuals are being charged with various offenses ranging from simple trespass, theft of mail, theft of digital devices, assault on local and federal officers to more serious offenses such as theft of potential national security information or national defense information and felony murder, Sherwin said.

He added that some individuals who are arrested on misdemeanors may face more serious charges after their arrest.

“After these criminal charges are filed via criminal complaints, that allows us, that allows law enforcement across the United States to arrest people from Dallas to Arkansas, to Nashville, to Cleveland to Jacksonville. That’s what’s happened over the past several days,” Sherwin said. “After those charges are filed, then we have the ability to then indict these individuals on more significant charges. And that’s exactly what has happened.”

The top prosecutor for the district also said that federal prosecutors are working to build “seditious and conspiracy charges” against some rioters, which carry a maximum prison term of 20 years.

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