A Florida man with Antifa affiliation was sentenced to six months probation and a $450 fine Thursday for the charge of "loitering or prowling" near a Jan. 6 right-wing anniversary rally held in support of a Capitol riot defendant.
In addition to the misdemeanor charge, 22-year-old Antifa member Garrett Smith was facing three felony charges of making, possessing, or discharging a destructive device. However, those serious charges were dropped by prosecutors with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office a month earlier mid-February.
Prosecutors chose not to pursue the charges after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives determined the items Smith possessed were legal "novelty devices" that, if lighted, emit smoke but don't explode, a prosecutor wrote in the notice. The agency determined the items Smith carried didn't meet Florida's legal definition of a destructive device, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Smith in black bloc was seen running from the conservative rally, held outside Pinellas County Jail in support of Jeremy Brown, a Tampa man who was arrested last September on federal charges.
Brown, described as being part of the Oath Keepers group, is accused of participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Brown also faces firearms charges after federal agents reportedly discovered a short-barrel rifle, sawed-off shotgun, hand grenades, and over 8,000 rounds of ammunition during a search of his home.
Smith was seen behaving suspiciously near the crowd during the rally for Brown, located in a parking lot across the street from Pinellas County Courthouse.
Two deputies reportedly spotted a black-clad Smith when he ran away from the rally in question. He was wearing all-black clothing with a balaclava covering his face, and was detained on a loitering charge by the deputies.
When the deputies searched Smith's backpack, they discovered what they described as a homemade pipe-style explosive device.
Deputies also found a paper entitled "direct action checklist," a common phrase used by protest groups to further leftist causes, which included a list of clothing, armor, a helmet, a gas mask, shaded goggles, duct tape, and flammable rags.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri reportedly said at the time in a news conference the following day, according to the Tampa Bay Times, that the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and FBI Tampa’s bomb technician had confirmed the pipe-style item was indeed an active explosive device.
Protestors were cleared from the area after Smith was searched at around 7:45 pm, and K9s and a heat-sensing helicopter were used to search the area.
Under a search warrant, deputies discovered in Smith’s house what they believed was another pipe explosive, along with what appeared to be hand grenade-style explosives, nails, and duct tape, according to the sheriff's office.
Nick Dorsten, Smith’s attorney, stated that his client had been carrying items that were essentially fireworks that would create smoke, but not an explosion.
The items retrieved by authorities had been tested in an ATF lab in Atlanta, who found that they were indeed smoke devices and not explosives.
"Basically, he bought some fireworks that were novelty devices," Dorsten argued in defense of Smith. "The kid got in over his head."
Dorsten noted that Smith has attended a number of political protests over the last few years, including some in riot-torn Portland, Oregon, but said that "[Smith] quickly realized that Florida is not Portland."
While Smith’s arrest report listed "Antifa" as an aggravating circumstance, Dorsten has claimed that Smith is not part of such a group.
"My understanding is he showed some [A]ntifa sympathies, but I think the investigation showed he’s not part of that group," Dorsten said. "If anything, he maybe watched them and took some notes on them."
According to WTSP, authorities say they consider Smith "one of the most concerning individuals" because he had no criminal history, no apparent online presence, and there was no prior intelligence on him.
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