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Man Charged After Backpack Full of Molotov Cocktails Found in Downtown Pittsburgh

A Pittsburgh man has been charged federally with illegal possession of an unregistered destructive device after planting a backpack with homemade explosives in a downtown open space.

Matthew Michanowicz, 52, of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, is charged by complaint with knowingly and unlawfully possessing a firearm, that is, a destructive device, which was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Michanowicz was taken into custody on the evening of June 5 by the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department. He will make his appearance in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh at a date to be determined by the court.

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said, “Once again, we see that certain participants in the protests in Pittsburgh were only present to serve as agitators and to incite violence. Let’s call them what they are: criminals. They have no intention of peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights; they seek only to incite and destroy. Michanowicz brought a backpack full of homemade Molotov cocktails to downtown Pittsburgh. He wasn’t there to protest; he was there to engage in violent attacks. I hope that any organizers or protestors who are participating consistent with the First Amendment will help identify and stop agitators who seek to manipulate their protest for violent ends. Rest assured that we stand ready to prosecute such provocateurs federally.”

According to the complaint, on June 1, 2020 at approximated 8 a.m., Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) officers were called to the open area of 2 PNC Plaza facing Wood Street in downtown Pittsburgh to respond to a suspicious bag. They had been called by PNC security officers for a “Military, green backpack” located by a bicycle rack under some trees on PNC property. PBP officers discovered three devices and a foul odor and called the PBP Bomb Squad. The Bomb Squad found three suspected “homemade Molotov cocktails.”

According to the complaint, the devices are described as “spent OC vapor grenades” (identified by the PBP as spent devices they had previously deployed) which contained a fluid that had a smell similar to an ignitable liquid. The liquid was leaking out of one or more of the devices. All three devices had wicks attached to them, which were held in place by what appears to be “spray foam insulation.”

Security camera footage provided to PBP by PNC security showed someone possessing the bag at the scene where it was recovered. That person was described as an older man, approximately 6’-6’1″ who rides a blue bicycle with a bright red pouch on the handlebars. On the evening of June 3, 2020 a patrolling PBP officer saw a man with a bicycle matching that description in the exact location where the bag has been discovered on June 1, 2020. The officer approached the individual to identify him and Michanowicz provided only his last name. The officer stated that after he identified Michanowicz, he released him, but Michanowicz stayed in the immediate vicinity. The officer stated he called a PBP supervisor to report that he had stopped someone matching the description, and another PBP supervisor then directed the officer to detain Michanowicz and bring him to PBP Headquarters for questioning.

During questioning Michanowicz said he visited downtown to look at the “aftermath” of the riots and protests. Michanowicz admitted he was the individual depicted in photographs from the surveillance footage but denied possessing the bag or knowing its contents. Michanowicz also stated he never possessed any destructive devices, including the devices recovered from the bag.

According to the complaint, on June 4, 2020, ATF Agents from the Pittsburgh Field Office executed a federal search warrant at Michanowicz’s residence at 144 Republic Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15211. The search revealed, all in close proximity to each other on a workbench in the garage, a bundle of fuse exhibiting the same color and characteristics of the fuses found on the previously seized destructive devices, some partially burnt fuse remnants that appear to be from the same fuse bundle, a can of spray foam insulation consistent with the type of spray foam insulation that had been applied to the exterior of all three recovered destructive devices, and a syringe emitting a strong odor consistent with an ignitable liquid. Also found in the garage were approximately 10 camouflage backpacks that were similar in size, pattern and configuration to the bag in which the destructive devices were discovered. A search of the trashcan in the garage revealed retail packaging of fuses and a pair of used latex gloves that emitted a strong odor consistent with an ignitable liquid.

It is unlawful for an individual to manufacture, possess, or transfer a Destructive Device without first being registered in ATF’s National Firearms Transfer Record (NFA) registry and without serial numbers being issued for said NFA Weapons (i.e.; Destructive Devices). An NFA inquiry made on June 4, 2020, showed there was no such registration for Michanowicz.

The count charged in the criminal complaint carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison, and a maximum fine of $250,000.

U.S. Attorney Brady credited the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Pittsburgh Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, for conducting the investigation leading to the charges in this case. U.S. Attorney Brady also thanked the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office for apprehending the defendant.

Read more at the Department of Justice

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