Dushko Vulchev, 44, of Maine is awaiting trial, accused of destroying the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church, which has a predominantly Black congregation, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.
A man was arrested Thursday and charged with setting fire to a Black church in Springfield, Massachusetts after authorities used footage from cameras on a Tesla as part of their case against him.
That vehicle, a Tesla parked near the church, recorded a man removing one of its tires on December 14, according to the testimony of an FBI agent, Casey Anderson, recorded in court documents submitted Thursday. Anderson identified the man as Vulchev.
“The video footage from the Tesla shows Vulchev at a close distance crouching near the Tesla and using a tire iron to remove the wheels,” Anderson said, per the court documents.
Anderson cited video footage from other security cameras in the area that he said showed Vulchev near or at the scene of the other crimes.
Officials said they found racist messages and images on Vulchev’s personal devices that they said demonstrated a “hatred of Black people.” Vulchev has been charged with four counts of damage to religious property involving fire – which the DOJ characterized as hate crimes – and one count of use of fire to commit a federal felony.
While Tesla security cameras may have helped authorities in this case, some are concerned that they pose a privacy risk. In March, Consumer Reports said Tesla’s cameras inside its cars, which transmit video footage of passengers, could allow outside parties to gain data access for malicious purposes.
In March, Chinese officials began limiting where military and state workers were driving and parking their Teslas on state property, out of concern that cars’ cameras could collect sensitive information. Tesla said in response that the cameras weren’t active outside North America.
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