Ryan Chamberlain: Captured FBI Fugitive Charged with Possession of "Illegal Destructive Device"

Categories: Law & Order
Ryan Chamberlain has been the subject of much federal discussion
San Francisco politico hit with explosives possession charges; Judge chides loose-lipped feds: "You can't have it both ways."

On the morning after his three-day cat-and-mouse game with federal authorities abruptly concluded, San Francisco political operative turned accused explosives accumulator Ryan Chamberlain today made his first of potentially many court appearances.

He was outfitted in a navy blue sweatshirt and what appeared to be black exercise pants; he looked, for all the world, like a man who absconded from a jog along Crissy Field. His friends and family -- tattoos, sun dresses, trucker hats -- stood out in a courtroom packed with dark-suited, serious federal justice types.

Yet when Judge Nathanael Cousins addressed the crowd, it was the dark-suited, serious federal justice types that drew his ire. At an 8:30 a.m. press conference this morning, the feds said little on the record that media attendees deemed worth reporting. Off the record, however, federal officials told the media that Chamberlain had what appeared to be an unassembled improvised explosive device in his Russian Hill apartment when agents raided the place over the weekend. Authorities were led to the San Francisco moderate political operative and former elected member of the San Francisco Republican County Central Committee by a "human tip."

Yet while this was being slipped to the media on the down-low, federal prosecutor Philip Kearney argued against unsealing the charging documents lest an "ongoing investigation" be compromised.

And this rankled the judge.

See Also: Ryan Chamberlain's San Francisco Political History

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"I am very concerned that law enforcement agents commented on things you're seeking to shield at a public press conference this morning," Cousins said. "You can't have it both ways."

Chamberlain is being charged with a single violation of 26 U.S. Code § 5861(c): "to receive or possess a firearm transferred to him in violation of the provisions of this chapter..." This charge was described to court onlookers as "possession of an illegal destructive device." It carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

(The defendant's well-wishers, meanwhile, have started up a "Ryan Chamberlain Legal Defense Fund.")

Cousins granted the government's motion to unseal some -- but not all -- of the charging documents. But he also demanded they explain to him, by "10:59 a.m." Wednesday why he shouldn't unseal the whole shebang. And, the judge warned all present, that the more government officials talked about the contents of that sealed document, the less inclined he'd be to keep it sealed.

Following tomorrow's 11 a.m. court appearance, a detention hearing regarding Chamberlain's fate is tentatively scheduled for Thursday. Chamberlain, currently represented by federal public defender Jodi Linker, remains incarcerated; prosecutors described him as a danger to the public and a flight risk.

An abridged version of the charging documents will, momentarily, be made available to the public. This article will be updated when that occurs.

Update, 11:40 a.m.: The criminal complaint -- sans attachments -- has been posted online, as has the amended complaint. You can view them here.

The affidavit is penned by FBI Special Agent Michael P. Eldridge who claims he personally spoke to Chamberlain on Saturday, May 31 at a coffee shop near Chamberlain's Polk Street apartment. At this time, per the affidavit, Chamberlain admitted that "he was aware of the Tor network and that he sometimes played poker on 'black market' websites." The laptop he used for this, Chamberlain continued, was within his apartment. After being permitted to leave the coffee shop "Chamberlain was observed driving in an apparent intentionally reckless manner at a high rate of speed, failing to stop at posted lights and signs." 

Why Chamberlain was allowed to leave -- at his own request -- remains unknown at this time. 

During the FBI's subsequent raid on Chamberlain's abode, "several items of potential evidentiary interest" were found. An x-ray analysis of a satchel by FBI bomb technicians revealed the following, per Eldridge:

  • A screw top glass jar containing batteries and a powdery, green substance

  • A model rocket motor lodged within the green powdery substance

  • An 'electric match,' a common igniter for improvised explosive devices

  • An assortment of ball bearings and screws believed to be intended projectiles

  • A wire extending from the glass jar attached to the metal lid of the jar

  • A circuit board, configured as a remote-controlled receiver

"FBI bomb technicians believe that the circuit board described above was designed to serve as a remote control, allowing detonation of the device from afar," concludes Eldridge.

Chamberlain did not return SF Weekly's calls and messages during his days on the lam from  the FBI. His friends and family did not speak to the media today. But, in a message he purportedly posted on multiple social media sites, Chamberlain claimed no wrongdoing:


My Voice Nation Help

So far, every allegation that has undergone any scrutiny has turned out to be false. No, he didn't have ricin. No, the FBI didn't need fricking Geiger Counters and Hazmat Suits. That he was "armed" was apparently just an assumption and that he was "dangerous" was invented out of whole cloth.

At this point, it's become clear that the focus needs to shift from the victim to the persecutors. Did the FBI really convince a judge that there was probable cause that Ryan had Ricin? Was the raid of Ryan's home based on NSA surveillance? Was his "crime" some thought-crime off of websites he visited? Can visiting a website ever even be a crime? How did they become aware of the evidence in his house before the raid? Were they working off an assumption or did they have proof this bag was in fact his?

WHY did they not detain him BEFORE the raid, when they had already made contact with him if they knew he was "armed and dangerous"?

These things do not add up. 

Last week, if I'd been asked, I would have have said I'd give the benefit of the doubt to Ryan over the FBI. After seeing facts come out in this case, I'm only more certain that Ryan deserves the benefit of the doubt more than the FBI.

Remember, it was only 2 or 3 years ago that the FBI mistakenly kicked in the door of another innocent San Francisco political operative.

The FBI needs to vindicate Ryan in the media with the same vigor with which they attempted to destroy his reputation. And there's going to need to be an independent investigation as to how the FBI and SFPD screwed up so royally in this case. Not an internal investigation, but an independent investigation. This is unacceptable.

Joe Phillips
Joe Phillips

Something stinks in this case. The fact that the feds are fighting to seal court documents even as they keep leaking conflicting information (first ricin, now "explosives") doesn't do much for their credibility here.

VuDu Skrood
VuDu Skrood

Since he's Caucasian and not a humanitarian & claimed he's life-long verklempt, he's not bold font national headlines during the man hunt nor now screaming how a terrorist or melanin enriched thug was caught by the FBI in the glitzy Marina.

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