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Retired firefighter charged with throwing fire extinguisher at officers during Capitol riots

Arrests of rioters uncover large arsenals of weapons
Sweeping arrests of Capitol rioters uncover large arsenals of weapons 02:32

A retired Pennsylvania firefighter was arrested by federal authorities Thursday for allegedly throwing a fire extinguisher that struck three officers in their heads during last week's assault on the U.S. Capitol.

A man federal investigators identified as Robert Sanford, a retired firefighter from Pennsylvania, is pictured in a still image taken from video before allegedly hurling a fire extinguisher at police during the U.S. Capitol riots. FBI

Robert Sanford, 55, of Upper Chichester, was arrested early Thursday morning, a law enforcement source confirms to CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton. Sanford is charged with assaulting a police officer, Milton reports.

Sanford is not suspected in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who suffered a fatal head injury during the January 6 siege. 

A criminal complaint identifies Sanford as the man seen on video hurling the fire extinguisher at officers. It hits one officer who was wearing a helmet in the head, then ricochets and strikes a second officer, who was not wearing a helmet, and then ricochets again to strike a third officer, who was wearing a helmet. Sanford is then seen moving quickly in the opposite direction.

One of the officers who was struck, Capitol Police officer William Young, said he felt the blow on his head and saw the fire extinguisher on the ground but couldn't determine who threw it. Young was evaluated at a hospital and released.

A second video reviewed by the FBI showed the attack from a different angle, the complaint says. In it, Sanford is seen wearing a "CFD" hat, an image seen on social media. The complaint says a friend of Sanford's recognized him, and told the FBI Sanford admitted to him he was the person seen in the image. The friend told the FBI Sanford told him he took a bus to Washington, D.C. with a group, listened to President Donald Trump's speech and followed Mr. Trump's instructions to go to the Capitol, according to the complaint. The friend said Sanford admitted being on Capitol grounds for about ten minutes, but didn't mention throwing anything.

Robert Sanford, a retired firefighter with the Chester, Pennsylvania Fire Department, allegedly hurled a fire extinguisher at police during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. FBI

In a statement, the city of Chester, Pennsylvania, said that although Sanford was seen wearing a "CFD" hat during the riots — an abbreviation for Chester Fire Department — he is no longer employed by the city. The statement said Sanford worked for the Chester Fire Department from 1994 until his retirement in February 2020.

"As the First Amendment of our Constitution outlines the right to free speech and to peaceful assembly, the actions of the rioters in D.C. last week hinged on characteristics of domestic terrorism," the statement read. "As such, if any person, be it current or former employee or resident, is confirmed to have participated in last week's event at the Capitol, then we hope our legal system will work according to its purpose and bring them to justice."

Federal authorities are investigating more than 170 people — 32 of whom now face federal charges — in the January 6 Capitol assault. Hundreds more charges are expected as federal investigators comb tips, video and social media to identify and arrest suspects across the country. 

Those already charged face a variety of counts including unlawful entry, disorderly conduct, theft, assault and weapons violations. A team of senior federal prosecutors are investigating more serious charges including sedition and conspiracy related to the "most heinous" acts at the Capitol, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said Tuesday.  

Pat Milton and Clare Hymes contributed reporting.  

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