A retired firefighter was arrested Thursday amid allegations that he threw a fire extinguisher at U.S. Capitol Police officers during last week’s violent insurrection in the halls of Congress.
Robert Sanford, 55, of Pennsylvania, turned himself in to the FBI this week and faces four charges: assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, unlawfully entering the Capitol and civil disorder. Three of those charges are felonies, and Sanford was ordered held without bail.
Sanford retired from the Chester Fire Department, near Philadelphia, last year. A week after the riot, a friend contacted federal investigators to turn Sanford in, saying he had known him for years and that Sanford had confessed “he was the person the FBI was looking for” after the agency sent out public appeals to help identify rioters.
Federal officials told a judge that Sanford appeared to throw a “red object” during the riot in video footage obtained after the attack. The riot left five people dead, including one Capitol Police officer (the charges against Sanford are not related to the death of Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the riot).
“The object appears to strike one officer, who was wearing a helmet, in the head,” the FBI said in a court filing of Sanford’s alleged acts. “The object then ricochets and strikes another officer, who was not wearing a helmet, in the head. The object then ricochets a third time and strikes a third officer, wearing a helmet, in the head. Immediately after throwing the object, the Subject moves quickly in the opposite direction.”
Sanford’s lawyer told The Associated Press that his client was “caught up in the mob mentality.” The attorney has asked for Sanford to be released on bail, pointing to his long career as a firefighter.
Prosecutors also noted that a search warrant executed at Sanford’s home uncovered a shirt bearing markings linked to the far-right Proud Boys, although his lawyer denied his client owned such an item.
The FBI has received more than 126,000 tips as federal agents scour video footage for evidence to charge those who broke that law during the insurrection. Dozens have been arrested, including a man on Thursday who was photographed in the Capitol holding a Confederate battle flag.
Sanford’s case will be prosecuted in Washington, D.C.
UPDATE: This story reported that Officer Brian Sicknick was attacked with a fire extinguisher, a claim made by unnamed law enforcement sources to the New York Times and Associated Press. No evidence supporting this claim has since emerged, and no officials have ever made the claim on the record.