Wil Casey Floyd was arrested at his mother’s home Friday morning in Wisconsin, Seattle police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said. Investigators say Floyd was inspired by anarchists in Greece and South America, who frequently use Molotov cocktails in protests.
It took five months for federal agents to identify a man suspected of throwing unlit Molotov cocktails at police during the May Day 2016 protests, and another six months after that to track him down, according to federal charges filed Friday.
Wil Casey Floyd, a 32-year-old former Seattle man, was arrested Friday morning at his mother’s house in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, on a federal warrant, said Jay Tabb Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office.
The federal complaint filed against Floyd says he told officials he threw the unlit cocktails. He is charged with one count of unlawful possession of destructive devices.
The complaint says Floyd is a member of “Black Bloc,” which is known for wearing black masks and clothing during protests. Tabb said Floyd moved out of Seattle soon after May Day last year and has been moving around the country.
Tabb, Seattle police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg announced Floyd’s arrest at a news conference at Seattle police headquarters on Friday morning. Seattle police and members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated the case.
Floyd was scheduled to make his first court appearance in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee on Friday afternoon and is then expected to be returned to Seattle, where he’ll appear in court in about two weeks.
O’Toole said the timing of Floyd’s arrest — three days before several planned marches and unplanned protests expected to take place in Seattle on Monday — was coincidental.
“Certainly it was a game changer last year,” O’Toole said of the introduction of Molotov cocktails, which hadn’t been among the items hurled at police in earlier protests. “They can very easily cause significant bodily injury or death.”
At last year’s protests, Seattle police Officer Paul Ducre Jr. suffered a burn to his lower right leg after one of the Molotov cocktails caught fire.
“The Molotov cocktail had not been ignited when it was thrown at officers,” FBI Special Agent Michael Baldino wrote in the complaint, “but when it landed, it caused one of the officers to accidentally drop a flash-bang device, igniting the liquid in the Molotov cocktail and causing a burst of flames.”
Baldino, a former firefighter from Virginia, was on foot nearby and witnessed the fire, which occurred at 7:40 p.m. on May 1, 2016, at Fourth Avenue South and South Seattle Boulevard, the complaint says. At the time, a group of about 50 people who wore black clothing and had covered their faces were part of a larger crowd.
After the fire, Seattle police collected five shattered Molotov cocktails, discarded latex gloves and black clothing as well as a black-and-red diaper bag with an intact Molotov cocktail inside, according to the complaint. It notes all of the devices were constructed in the same way: Green beer bottles containing a flammable liquid, with a tampon acting as a stopper and a strip of white cloth as a wick.
From footage that investigators reviewed — including videos posted to YouTube and aired by TV stations, as well as photos and videos taken by private citizens — they said they saw a man “dressed in full ‘black bloc’ attire” with a diaper bag standing in the area where the bottle was thrown at Ducre. The footage also showed the same man a few minutes later, no longer wearing the black clothing or carrying the bag, according to the complaint.
On May 4, 2016, King County prosecutors charged Wesley Nielsen, then 23, with third-degree assault but dismissed the charge a couple of weeks later after determining Nielsen had been mistakenly identified as the person who threw the Molotov cocktail, according to news reports at the time.
After that, investigators said they identified several potential suspects but none panned out. In the complaint, Baldino wrote that the break in the case came in October, after a “request to identify” bulletin was sent to all law-enforcement agencies in the state with photos of the suspect taken from the video footage.
A police officer in Richland, Benton County, alerted investigators on Oct. 18 that he believed the suspect was Floyd and provided a link to Floyd’s Facebook profile, the complaint says. A search of Floyd’s Facebook page turned up references to the Seattle May Day event, including a comment purportedly written by Floyd: “‘It’s gunna (sic) be a blast,’ accompanied by a smiley face emoticon,” the complaint says.
In searching for Floyd, Seattle police detectives and FBI agents sent leads to investigators in multiple states. They were unsuccessful until April 17, when Baldino was notified that Floyd had booked a plane ticket for April 20, flying from San Diego to Milwaukee, with a stopover in Denver, the complaint says.
After securing a federal warrant to obtain Floyd’s DNA and fingerprints, investigators were in Denver when Floyd got off the plane — and the complaint says he voluntarily spoke with police. Floyd told investigators he assembled the Molotov cocktails and threw them at officers, though he “claimed he did not ignite any of the devices before he threw them and that he had no intention of doing so,” according to the complaint.
The complaint says Floyd told investigators he was inspired by anarchists in Greece and South America, who frequently use Molotov cocktails during protests, and he learned how to build the devices from instructions posted online.
After throwing the Molotov cocktails, the complaint says Floyd “panicked,” dropped the diaper bag in the middle of the street near Safeco Field, shed his black clothing nearby and left the area.
The complaint doesn’t say if Floyd’s DNA and fingerprints were matched to the recovered items.
The maximum penalty for unlawful possession of destructive devices is 10 years in federal prison.
Nine people were arrested and five police officers were injured during May Day protests in Seattle last year.