Police and prosecutors say a 20-year-old Buffalo man is the one who tossed a flaming object through a broken City Hall window during Saturday night demonstrations in Niagara Square that, hours after an original protest, turned violent and destructive. Courtland Renford faces both state and federal counts.
The suspect's actions were captured on live television Saturday night. It was later revealed that the same person was recorded on camera passing by a working news reporter.
Renford faces a federal charge of destroying or attempting to destroy a building involved in interstate commerce. A conviction could mean prison time ranging from five to 20 years. His state charges include third-degree arson and second-degree criminal mischief. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn says Renford has a prior felony conviction, which means Renford could now face a tougher sentence than he could have received, if not for that prior record.
"If he is convicted of this charge or pleads guilty to this arson charge, he will be adjudicated as a second felony offender," Flynn said. "That carries a maximum of 15 years on the state side, and a minimum of three years."
Upon his arraignment on state charges Monday afternoon, Renford was taken into federal custody.
Mayor Byron Brown said police received numerous tips from a public that was "outraged" while watching events unfold Saturday night, hours after hundreds gathered to protest the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. A now fired police officer is charged with murder in connection with a violent arrest during which Floyd is portrayed on video pleading, "I can't breathe."
"We support the right of citizens to peacefully protest, to assemble, to issue and use their free speech," Mayor Brown said. "But we will not tolerate, in this community, anyone who commits acts of violence, vandalism or criminality in the name of peaceful protest."
Other violent and destructive incidents remain under investigation, including one involving a female motorist who drove her vehicle toward the protesting crowd and was subsequently pulled from her car and beaten. Buffalo Police Captain Jeffrey Rinaldo told reporters the driver, who was believed to be in stable condition at Erie County Medical Center, was not cooperating with investigators. Police are still working to determine whether to press charges against her.
"We're currently reviewing our video surveillance footage to determine how exactly that car got into that area and how it got into where the crowd was," Rinaldo said. "It was right in the middle of a very heated part of that protest. Some officers did have to get removed from the traffic checkpoints for their safety. We believe the vehicle was able to just drive, unfortunately, around the stationary police car and enter the crowd area."