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Suspect Lionel Virgile Charged With Attempted Arson For Allegedly Throwing Molotov Cocktail At NYPD Vehicle

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Brooklyn man accused of throwing bleach in an NYPD officer's face and a Molotov cocktail at other officers was formally charged Monday.

Lionel Virgile is facing a federal charge of attempted arson of an NYPD vehicle while officers were inside. The NYPD's Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI and the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York are investigating, CBS2's Kiran Dhillon reported.

Virgile appeared virtually before a judge at Brooklyn Federal Court. In a criminal complaint filed Monday, prosecutors said he's a danger to police and the community.

Exclusive video shows the moment Virgile crashed his car in East Flatbush on Saturday morning. Nearly two dozen officers quickly flooded the scene, some with their guns drawn. They worked to get the 44-year-old out of the car and into custody.

Virgile's family said they're horrified by the confrontation.

"The person in the video, that's not him. He's not violent, he's very caring and nice," Janelle Virgile, his daughter, said.

Lionel Virgile
(credit: CBS2)

Body camera footage from moments before the crash shows what led to the arrest.

An NYPD officer approached Virgile's car after pulling him over for allegedly running a red light.

"What are you getting out for?" the officer said.

Then, police say Virgile suddenly hurled bleach into the officer's face before taking off.

When he's pulled over again, Virgile allegedly threw a lit Molotov cocktail at police. Virgile again sped off. He crashed and was arrested.

Federal prosecutors said FBI agents found five more Molotov cocktails, along with a red jerry can, in Virgile's car. They said he's since admitted to the attacks and to buying materials for the Molotov cocktails two weeks ago with an intent to hurt police.

Prosecutors also allege Virgile admitted to watching YouTube videos about explosives. Additionally, sources told CBS2 it's believed he ran the red light, which initiated the traffic stop, with an intent to bait police.

Over the weekend, Virgile's 18-year-old daughter Janelle told CBS2 she did not believe he was going after cops.

"I'm sorry for that because that's not something he would do if he was in his right mind," she said. "He could have been killed for that, but luckily he wasn't."

Her father, who is originally from Haiti, suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, she said. According to his daughter, Virgile used to hold down jobs as a cab driver and a nurse's aide, but has been living in his car for two years - the same amount of time he's refused to take his medications.

Virgile's daughter said he was recently taken to the hospital to be treated and was released.

"My mom, basically, tried to tell them to keep him," she said. "They refused because they said he doesn't want help, but that's the whole problem. We're trying to get him help and he doesn't want it."

The union that represents police sergeants said if mental illness is a factor, what happened is indicative of cracks in the system.

"Why was this individual allowed to be left untreated and who's accountable for that?" said Ed Mullins from the Sergeants Benevolent Association. "There's a breakdown in the social policies and it becomes the police who have to deal with it."

The police officers' union said anti-police rhetoric from elected officials is behind attacks like this one.

"There is no fear in the perp's minds any longer about assaulting a police officer," said Pat Lynch from the Police Benevolent Association. "It gets in the heads of criminals, there's no penalty for it, and it even gets in the heads of mentally ill people."

Virgile may also face assault charges related to the incident, police sources told CBS2.

He was remanded into custody and is due back in court for a preliminary hearing on May 3. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

The officer that had the bleach thrown in his face was treated at the hospital for chemical burns.

CBS2's Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.

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