CLEVELAND, Ohio (WKBN) – Two men from Erie are accused of driving to Cleveland to incite violence during protests there.
Brandon Michael Althof Long, age 23, and Devon Bryce Poland, age 22, were arrested Friday on charges of engaging and conspiring to engage in interstate travel with a firearm with the intent to use fire to participate in civil unrest and riot, use of fire to commit a felony and rioting.
The charges come following an investigation by the FBI.
“These two individuals traveled to Cleveland with the sole intent of corrupting what was supposed to be a peaceful protest,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith.
According to the criminal complaint, at approximately 11:55 p.m. May 30, the defendants were spotted by Cleveland police in a vehicle entering an alleyway at the intersection of East 8th Street and Huron Avenue in downtown Cleveland.
Police then spotted a man leave the alleyway and approach their police vehicle, although a curfew was put into place at 8 p.m. Police believed that the vehicle was involved in criminal activities earlier in the day.
The man was identified by police as Long, and Poland was inside the vehicle, according to the complaint.
In the vehicle, police reported finding a pistol, 17 rounds of ammunition, a hammer, a BB gun resembling a pistol, a red plastic bottle of liquid fire starter, two Apple iPhones, a bottle of liquor believed to have been looted from a store earlier in the day and other objects.
The FBI then began investigating the two and said the iPhones contained messages between Long and Poland that detailed their intentions to travel to Cleveland to promote and encourage riots. Investigators said the defendants talked about bringing supplies to make a Molotov cocktail.
“A gun, numerous rounds of ammunition, fire gel and a hammer are not items consistent with a protest. These are the tools used by criminals to incite and participate in mayhem,” Agent Smith said.
The protests in Cleveland were in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis. While the protest in Cleveland began peacefully, it turned violent as some protesters burned police cruisers, threw objects at officers and tried to break windows.
Investigators told Cleveland’s FOX 8 that they believed the rioting was organized and out-of-town people were involved. FOX 8 reported that many of those arrested gave investigators Cleveland-area addresses, but those addresses were found to be fake.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson issued a statement regarding the arrests of the Erie men.
“Everyone has a constitutional right to freedom of speech, to protest, to bring grievance, to express their concerns to government,” Jackson said. “Everyone has a right to peacefully demonstrate and protest, but once there is violence against people or property then we need to take action to protect the safety and well-being of our community and citizens. I want to thank our law enforcement partners for their assistance as we look to address the underlying things that have caused the demonstrations in our city.”