The 20-year-old Buffalo man charged Monday with starting a fire in City Hall on Saturday night after protests turned violent downtown also faces a federal charge.
U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy acknowledged that federal charges lodged for an arson are not common, but he added the decision to charge Courtland Renford federally was made because authorities were "vindicating different interests."
Officials knew Renford would not have been able to be held after his arraignment in local court if he had been charged with only a state crime, he said.
Authorities wanted to send a strong message to the community that while the public is encouraged to exercise their First Amendment rights, "they can't act violently," he said.
If convicted of the federal charge, Renford faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison.
Renford was charged Monday after investigations by Buffalo police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kennedy said.
Television cameras captured images of a man throwing an object that was on fire through a City Hall window after demonstrations in Niagara Square. The fire was extinguished quickly and did not appear to cause extensive damage.
The burning item thrown into City Hall was a green laundry basket, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Buffalo police went to Renford's residence, where two females at the home consented to a search, federal prosecutors said. Inside the home, Renford was found hiding behind some clothes on the second floor.
Police also recovered in the home what prosecutors described as a "distinctive Chanel face mask" worn by the arsonist, prosecutors said.
Renford, who has a prior felony conviction, was charged under a federal law that involves destruction or attempted destruction of a building involved in interstate commerce, Kennedy said.
He also faces state felony charges of third-degree arson and second-degree criminal mischief, said Kait Munro, spokeswoman for the Erie County District Attorney's Office.
Buffalo police announced earlier Monday they had a person in custody in connection with the incident.
Renford was taken into federal custody after he was released following his arraignment on state charges.
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