Calif. man charged in Comet Ping Pong fire twice arrested at Wash. Monument

WASHINGTON — A 22-year-old man who police say started a fire last month inside a D.C. pizzeria that’s been the subject of bogus internet conspiracy theories has been arrested on federal arson charges.

Ryan Jaselskis, who also goes by Ryan Rimas, was identified as a suspect in the fire at Comet Ping Pong after twice being arrested earlier this month for scaling the fence around the Washington Monument, according to court documents. That’s when authorities recognized his distinctive red, white and blue letter jacket, which had also been captured on the pizzeria’s surveillance video, according to the documents.

Jaselskis, a California resident, went before a judge in D.C. Superior Court Thursday and was ordered held without bond ahead of a Feb. 19 detention hearing. Jaselskis faces 20 years in prison on the arson charge if he’s found guilty.

The fire at the popular pizza restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest D.C. broke out after 9 p.m. Jan. 23 and spread to some curtains before employees were able to put out the flames. No one was injured.

Surveillance video from the restaurant that night showed a bearded man with slicked-back hair and the varsity-style jacket trying to destroy the security camera as the fire burned in the background.

Jaselskis is also facing a slew of charges stemming from the arrests at the Washington Monument

Earlier this month, U.S. Park Police arrested Jaselskis after they said he jumped a fence set up around the monument. Bystander video of the Feb. 4 arrest uploaded to YouTube shows Jaselskis scuffling with officers before one of them uses a stun gun on him. Jaselskis was charged with assault on a police officer and unlawful entry but was later released from custody and issued a “stay away order” for the monument grounds, according to the court documents.

But the next day, he again jumped a security fence around the monument and was arrested a second time, the documents said. He was charged with unlawful entry and destruction of public property.

During both arrests, Jaselskis was wearing the letter jacket, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives later linked to the Comet Ping Pong fire, according to the documents.

The charging documents also lay out some of the other evidence tying Jaselskis to the Comet Ping Pong fire, including the fact that he was seen on a D.C. police-owned surveillance camera leaving the restaurant after the fire was set.

In addition, a witness who was inside the restaurant at the time of the fire identified Jaselskis from a nine-person photo lineup.

Comet has been the focus of an online conspiracy theory involving a supposed child sex ring and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In December 2016, a North Carolina man, Edgar Maddison Welch, said he was investigating the conspiracy theories when he showed up to the restaurant and fired an AR-15 assault rifle at a cabinet. He later pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge and assault with a dangerous weapon and was sentenced to four years in prison.

WTOP’s Michelle Basch contributed to this report. 

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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