A former Menards store security guard was charged Monday with arson that damaged the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct building following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in police custody.
Branden M. Wolfe, 23, of St. Paul, is the first person to be charged in connection with the Third Precinct building fire. Hundreds of businesses were damaged in south Minneapolis and St. Paul in the aftermath of Floyd’s death on Memorial Day.
The Third Precinct was overrun and heavily damaged from vandalism and arson May 28. Investigators identified several separate fires started in the building. In an interview with law enforcement, Wolfe admitted to being inside the Third Precinct the night of the arson, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.
He took property from the building and pushed a wooden barrel into the fire, the complaint says. Wolfe also identified himself in several photographs depicting him in front of the Third Precinct building holding a police baton, with smoke and flames visible in the background, the complaint says.
It says Wolfe confirmed that he pushed a wooden barrel into the fire, knowing that it would help keep the fire burning. Investigators recovered charred metal barrel rings from the scene.
Wolfe was arrested Wednesday after St. Paul police received a complaint that he was trying to enter the Menards home improvement store on University Avenue. He had been a security guard at the store but had been fired earlier Wednesday after he referred to social media posts about him stealing items from the Third Precinct.
When he was arrested, Wolfe was wearing body armor and a police-issued duty belt and carrying a baton. The belt had handcuffs and a knife, and his name was written in duct tape on the back of the body armor, the complaint says.
Law enforcement later recovered from Wolfe’s apartment additional items belonging to the Minneapolis Police Department, including a riot helmet, a 9mm pistol magazine, a police radio and a police-issued overdose kit.
Wolfe has been convicted of a petty-misdemeanor trespass charge and interfering with a 911 call, which is a gross misdemeanor. On the 911 case, charges of domestic assault, property damage, trespass and disorderly conduct were dismissed. He is on probation in that case until September 2021.
Wolfe’s father, Robert Wolfe of Macon, Ga., said he knew nothing of his son’s legal troubles or his political leanings. He said his son was raised by his mother and home-schooled in a suburb of Pensacola, Fla.
“He has grandiose ideas, a lot of them … and zero common sense,” Robert Wolfe said.
As for the alleged arson, he said, “I’m still proud of him, whether he burned down the police station or not. He didn’t hurt nobody, did he?”
Branden Wolfe has split time recently between Florida and the Twin Cities, where he has lived for about a year and where he and woman have a toddler daughter, his father said.
Wolfe is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon.
The ATF and FBI urge the public to report suspected arson, use of explosive devices or destructive acts associated with the recent unrest.
Anyone with information specifically related to the Third Precinct fire or other business fires in the Twin Cities can call 1-888-ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477), e-mail ATFTips@atf.gov or submit information anonymously via ReportIt.com.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.