Suspect sentenced for setting fire in aftermath of George Floyd death

Local News

Matthew Lee Rupert, of Galesburg.

A 29-year-old Galesburg man was sentenced Thursday to 105 months – 8.75 years – in prison followed by three years of supervised release for setting fire to a cell phone store in Minneapolis in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.

According to court documents, on May 28, 2020, Matthew Lee Rupert posted messages on his Facebook account referencing the public protests occurring in the Twin Cities after the death of George Floyd, says a news release from the U. S. Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota. 

One message said “I’m going to Minneapolis tomorrow who coming only goons I’m renting hotel rooms.” On May 29, 2020, Rupert broadcast a Facebook Live video indicating that he was in Minneapolis. Rupert announced he came “to riot,” and is depicted handing out artillery-shell fireworks, encouraging violence against law-enforcement officers, actively damaging property, breaking into buildings, and looting businesses.

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed with the court, the video also depicts Rupert asking for lighter fluid before entering a boarded-up Sprint store located on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Rupert canvassed the store and eventually entered a back room while telling others he had located a store safe.

Rupert and others then knocked several boxes into a pile on the ground. Rupert doused the pile of boxes with lighter fluid and then directed another person—at the time a juvenile—to set fire to the pile. Rupert ran from the building and said “I lit it on fire!” The store sustained significant damage because of the fire.

“Matthew Rupert chose to drive more than 400 miles from his home in Illinois to Minnesota to engage in violence and destruction, all while broadcasting it for the world to see. Peaceful protest was not on his agenda,” said Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk. “Arson, looting, property damage, and the glorification of it, will not be tolerated. Today, justice has caught up with Mr. Rupert as he must now account for his crimes.”

“Today, we count yet another violent offender as held to account for his reckless and deliberate damage to our community,” said Michael Paul, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office. “Mr. Rupert made his way to Minneapolis for the express purpose of instigating lawless behavior on our local streets.”

“He demonstrated no purpose other than endangering peaceful protests by actively encouraging violence against law enforcement and personally destroying community businesses,” Paul said. “Together with our local partners, FBI Minneapolis and ATF St. Paul continue to hold indifferent criminals like Mr. Rupert accountable for their dangerous and divisive criminal conduct in the Twin Cities.”

“Arson is a dangerous act of violence,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Jon Ortiz, St. Paul Field Division, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). “Arson poses a great threat to public safety. ATF works diligently to secure public safety.”

“The defendant in this case committed a reckless act of violence on unsuspecting members of this community,” Ortiz said. “We are thankful that no one was seriously injured or killed as a result of this crime. This sentencing will send a message to anyone who considers conducting these types of violent acts that they will not be tolerated. ATF will continue to work alongside our law enforcement partners to ensure that this community remains a safe place.”

This case was the result of an investigation conducted by the FBI Minneapolis Field Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), with assistance from the FBI Chicago Field Office, the FBI Springfield Field Office, and the Chicago Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Angela M. Munoz and Jordan L. Sing were the prosecutors.

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