Oldsmar man accused of bringing flammable device near Jan. 6 rally gets probation
An Oldsmar man who was arrested after deputies said he was found with a backpack containing a flammable device near a Jan. 6 anniversary protest pleaded no contest to a charge of loitering and prowling connected to the incident.
Judge Brett Szematowicz withheld adjudication in the case during a hearing Thursday, citing Garrett Smith’s lack of a prior criminal record.
Smith, 22, was sentenced to six months of probation, during which he will not be allowed to possess explosives or fireworks. He must also undergo a psychological evaluation, pay the standard $500 in court fines and fees and consent to searches of his home.
Pinellas deputies initially detained Smith earlier this year after they saw him wearing all black, including a balaclava that covered his face, and fleeing a protest in front of the Pinellas County jail.
The rally was being held on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in support of Jeremy Brown, a Tampa man being held in the jail on federal charges in connection with the riot.
After fleeing the rally, Smith was found with a paper titled “direct action checklist” that included a list of items, such as armor, flammable rags, duct tape, a helmet, gas mask and shaded goggles, deputies said.
Deputies also said they found what they believed to be a pipe-style explosive device in Smith’s backpack. The FBI Tampa’s bomb technician and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office agreed with their assessment at the time. Deputies executed a search warrant at Smith’s house, where they found what they believed to be explosive grenades and another pipe explosive.
However, further testing conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that the devices smoked, but did not explode and were not considered destructive devices under Florida’s legal definition. Prosecutors then dropped the charges of making and possessing a destructive device, which were felony charges. The remaining loitering charge was a misdemeanor.
Prosecutors said during the hearing that Smith had been in possession of anti-government pamphlets. Judge Szematowicz noted that expressing anti-government sentiments is quintessentially American. He expressed concerns that searches of Smith’s home could be used as an excuse to search for anti-government pamphlets and warned prosecutors that he would hear motions from Smith’s defense lawyer if there is any overreach in how the searches are conducted.
The judge also reminded Smith of his rights to protest and free speech, though also noting that Smith had to respect others’ rights.
Dorsten, Smith’s defense attorney, told the Tampa Bay Times that he hoped his client had learned from the experience.
“We’re very happy with the outcome,” Dorsten said. “We’re just hoping that he kind of learned his lesson and I feel that he did.”