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Police have outlined the innovative methods they employed to nab a 33-year-old woman accused of setting fire to a police car during protests stemming from the killing of black American George Floyd.
At about 5.30pm on May 30 during protests in Philadelphia, a white female was seen removing a piece of ignited wood from a car that was alight and “shoving it” into a police vehicle which was not alight.
Authorities are holding 33-year-old Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal pending trial on the arson charges.
In a sworn affidavit, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) added the woman was seen wearing a blue T-shirt and jeans, grey gloves, a multicoloured face mask, black boots and a green-brown backpack.
It was the woman’s blue shirt and a tattoo on her forearm which led investigators to track her down.
Defence attorney Paul Heznecker said on Wednesday “the investigative techniques utilised by the government will be under scrutiny” during the pre-trial investigation.
The affidavit says not only did the agent witness the arson live through a news feed, but it was also captured on video and on June 4, the FBI obtained approximately 500 photos from an amateur photographer, the woman in question was in several of these photos.
Etsy store review leads police to suspect
As part of their investigation, the FBI focused on the woman’s blue T-shirt which says “Keep the immigrants, deport the racists”.
The FBI determined the T-shirt was “unique” and sold by an Etsy store, which was not named in the affidavit.
The store listed on Etsy was public, meaning the FBI was able to sift through the reviews. Police. determined the shirts sold through the un-named Etsy seller were of the same style, with the same words as the shirt seen on the woman.
On Etsy, people are able to leave comments and review items they have purchased from sellers and a review from March 24 this year was posted by a user with the screen name ‘Xx Mv’, leaving a five-star review of the shirt.
‘Xx Mv’ had their location listed on their Etsy profile as Philadelphia, PA, and their username for the Etsy URL was ‘alleycatlore’.
Searching for ‘alleycatlore’, police then unearthed a Poshmark account, which had the display name ‘lore-elisabeth’.
The FBI then searched for ‘Lore Elisabeth’ in the Philadelphia area, which lead them to a LinkedIn profile for a user with the same name, which stated they were employed as a massage therapist with a company that provides massage therapy services.
On the company’s website are videos which the FBI determined were some four-years old.
In one of the videos, which featured Ms Blumenthal, and a tattoo on her forearm, which was observed in the photos seen by investigators, though it appears over the years Ms Blumenthal has added the tattoo.
The FBI agent said the woman in the video matched Ms Blumenthal’s drivers licence and through the company’s website, the FBI got Ms Blumenthal’s phone number and then her address.
The Etsy store owner handed over documents in accordance with the grand jury subpoena, which showed the shirt ordered through the store, along with another shirt, was consistent with what the alleged arsonist was wearing.
Police investigations ‘adapting’ with the times
Speaking to Vice, Ms Blumenthal’s lawyer, Paul Heznecker said he was concerned she was being charged in federal court, opposed to being handled on a local level like other incidents of the same nature have been.
Also speaking to Vice was Seamus Hughes, the Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Mr Hughes said the FBI is adapting with the times, as people willingly put information about themselves online.
“Cameras are everywhere, whether it’s protestors’ iPhones, news organisations covering the crowds, or the surrounding buildings’ CCTVs. If you set two cop cars on fire, they’ll eventually find you, it’s just a question of how quickly,” he told Vice.
Police in Seattle also used an Instagram account to match an accused arsonist’s unique tattoo with their suspect, and confirmed her identity due to her unusual eyebrows.
Mr Heznecker intends to challenge and scrutinise the FBI’s investigation techniques.
“It’s the extent to which they have done it, more broadly, when it involves political movements and certainly in this particular case, it will be something I’m going to scrutinise very carefully,” Mr Heznecker according to CBS.
US Attorney William McSwain offered a statement saying the office supports the right to peacefully protest, as it is their first amendment right.
“But torching a police car has nothing to do with peaceful protest or any legitimate message. Anybody who engaged in such acts can stand by to put your hands behind your back and head to federal prison,” he said in a statement.
“We are coming for you.”
According to CBS local, Ms Blumenthal is in custody and according to many US media outlets, she could face up to 80 years in prison if convicted.
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