Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A West Philly activist facing arson charges in the burning of a police car is released from jail

A U.S. District Court judge granted Anthony Smith release after hearing arguments Monday from Smith’s lawyer and a federal prosecutor.

Anthony Smith, at 52nd and Cedar Streets in West Philadelphia, in a July 2020 file photo.
Anthony Smith, at 52nd and Cedar Streets in West Philadelphia, in a July 2020 file photo.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Anthony Smith, a prominent West Philadelphia activist charged with arson in the burning of a Philadelphia police car during a racial injustice protest in May, was released from jail Monday while awaiting trial.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Curtis Joyner granted Smith, 29, release after hearing arguments from Smith’s lawyer and a federal prosecutor.

Smith, a social studies teacher at the YouthBuild Philadelphia charter school and one of the organizers of the Philadelphia Coalition for Racial Economic and Legal Justice (Philly for REAL Justice), was arrested at his home on Oct. 28. He was one of three defendants charged with arson and obstructing law enforcement after a police car was set ablaze outside City Hall in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

On Friday, the judge had agreed to keep Smith behind bars after federal prosecutors filed an emergency motion seeking to reverse an earlier ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Perkin, who had ordered Smith released to his home under electronic monitoring and a curfew. Perkin also said Smith should continue teaching. Joyner’s new order affirms the release conditions.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Reinitz has said that although the government doesn’t know who set the police car aflame, Smith added “fuel to the fire” by throwing paper and cardboard into the car in actions captured on helicopter video.

Smith’s lawyer, Paul Hetznecker said the evidence against his client was “a piece of paper” thrown into a car “already engulfed in flames.” He has argued that Smith is not a danger to the community or a flight risk.

Smith, who was being held at the Lehigh County jail, was released Monday evening, Hetznecker said.

Smith “is facing a seven year mandatory minimum penalty for allegedly torching a police car and endangering those around it,” U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said in a statement Monday, adding: "If you engage in this type of criminal activity, it doesn’t matter who you are — you will face the consequences.”

In response, Hetznecker said he and Smith “intend to vigorously contest the charges in court.”