Man who planted backpack full of bombs during riots in Pittsburgh sentenced to only probation

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PITTSBURGH, PA – In May of 2020, a man admitted that he placed a backpack filled with explosives near the PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the height of the George Floyd civil unrest and riots.

Even though he admitted to placing these items, which could have seriously wounded and killed several people, he was sentenced to probation for the federal crime.

The federal case against Matthew Michanowicz for planting explosive devices near the scene of civil unrest and a riot the day before, learned his fate while sitting in front of US District Judge Donetta Ambrose on the 6th.

Instead of spending years in prison, he would be released on probation only.

Ambrose will serve three years of probation after he has completed six months of house arrest.

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The shocking sentence was passed by Ambrose after Michanowicz had plead guilty in August of this year to the possession of an unregistered destructive device after he was indicted in 2020.

The prosecutor arguing the case, Assistant US Attorney Jessica Smolar, had unsuccessfully attempted to get Ambrose to impose a sentence of 30 to 37 months in prison for the federal offense.

The argument that Smolar used identified Michanowicz as someone who had gone to that location in hopes of being disruptive and not simply a peaceful protestor.

Regardless of her allegations, it was the argument of Ken Haber, Michanowicz’s attorney, that swayed the federal judge.

Haber filed a sentencing memo which was sealed due to some type of sensitive information contained therein about Michanowicz’s history.

Haber would go on to explain how his client was at one time a successful businessman who worked with neurosurgeons but had just lost his job.

Additionally, Michanowicz had just lost his father and a good friend of his as well as just went through a divorce. While no one is seemingly excusing his actions, Haber noted:

“I think the judge was somewhat convinced that he had a mental breakdown.”

Smolar, during the sentencing, noted that Michanowicz had a significant history of abusing drugs that started when he was young. She described that the drug use was seemingly at its peak the year before he admitted to having planted the destructive devices.

Smolar explained that Michanowicz was known to use up to five bags of heroin a day and had been in a drug rehabilitation program in Florida in 2019.

His ex-wife also reported to the state that she had found empty bags which were suspected to have at one time contained heroin and empty alcohol bottles around the house prior to his arrest.

The explosive material that Michanowicz admitted to planting were found near the PNC Plaza on June 1st after concerned citizens located a backpack near a bike rack in the area.

The backpack sparked concerns not only because it was unattended, but because it was in a location that protests and riots had occurred the night prior.

When Pittsburgh Police arrived on the scene and inspected the backpack, they found three separate devices and called the bomb squad to investigate.

When the bomb squad got on the scene, they determined that the three devices inside were some types of spent pepper spray grenades with wicks placed inside held by a foam spray insulation.

Both the ATF and the bomb squad noted that the devices were filled with gasoline and were more than capable of causing death if exploded.

Police investigated the source of the explosive devices and utilized video surveillance in the area and were able to determine Michanowicz had rode his bicycle to the location and he was the one that left the bag at the bike rack.

Pittsburgh Police authored a search warrant and searched Michanowicz’s house and found fuses, spray foam insulation, and ten different camouflage backpacks inside his home.

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Feds charge eight people after violent riots in Pittsburgh end in mass destruction

PITTSBURGH, PA- Eight people have been arrested in connection with damage and vandalism during protests that took place on May 30th in downtown Pittsburgh.

Most of the individuals indicted on charges were in some way connected specifically to the destruction of two Pittsburgh police cruisers that were set on fire during protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. 

 

According to reports, when the indictment came back it revealed that the following people have been arrested:

George Allen, 31, charged with one count of obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder. According to the indictment, Allen threw a projectile through the front passenger window of a police vehicle.

Nicholas Lucia, 25, charged with one count of obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder. Lucia is accused of throwing an object that appeared to be an explosive device at uniformed police officers, which landed on an officer’s vest and then exploded when it hit the ground.

Raekown Blankenship, 24, charged with obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder. He damaged an unmarked police car by hitting, kicking, and stomping it. He also threw a projectile into the windshield and poked and struck multiple police horses.

Devin Montgomery, 24 and Brandon Benson, 29, charged with malicious destruction or damage by fire of a vehicle of an organization receiving federal financial assistance and bank burglary. They damaged and destroyed a police cruiser and are accused of entering and attempting to enter the Dollar Bank with the intent to take property, money, or a thing of value.

Christopher West, 35 and Da’Jon Lengyel, 22, are facing a four-count indictment. They set a police vehicle on fire and damaged the vehicle by hitting, kicking, and stomping on it.

Andrew Augustyniak-Duncan, 25 of Carnegie, charged with one count of obstruction of law enforcement during civil unrest. He threw projectiles at several police officers. 

Accounts from that weekend of protests claim that the protests going through downtown carried on peacefully for the majority of the afternoon, but turned violent after several people began damaging a marked police SUV and an unmarked commander’s SUV. Both SUV’s were severely vandalized and eventually set on fire.

 

However, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said in a statement:

“Throwing IEDs and bricks at police officers, throwing projectiles at and striking police horses, and setting police cruisers on fire are not the protected First Amendment activities of a peaceful protest. They are criminal acts that violate federal law.”

Brady called those accused of sparking the violence during that weekend’s protest “agitators” who hijacked a lawful protest and undermined a message of equality with one of destruction.

 

Michael Christman, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office vowed to continue making arrests when demonstrators spark violence.

He said:

“We are not done. We will continue to use all of our investigative resources to find each person who chose to start a violent confrontation.”

According to court documents, originally, 46 people were arrested from the May 30th protests. However, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala’s offices dropped charges against 39 of them. 

Two days after the May 30th protest, dozens more were arrested during a protest that turned violent in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director said:

“The lawlessness we saw on May 30th cannot be tolerated.”

All eight of the individuals who have been indicted also face state charges. 

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