A retired Chicago firefighter was subjected to harassing phone calls, called a murder and attacked on social media after internet sleuths misidentified the veteran public servant as the man who, according to authorities, hurled a fire extinguisher at police officers during the U.S. Capitol riot.
On the day of the riot, Jan. 6, David Quintavalle was at home in Chicago, celebrating his wife's birthday, when a man wearing a "CFD" hat was photographed at the Capitol. After the photo surfaced on the internet, many questioned whether the hat belonged to someone affiliated with the Chicago Fire Department.
In the days following, according to Quintavalle's attorney, John Nisivaco, a "self-appointed detective" on the internet posted an old picture of the Chicago resident, stating he looked like the man in the photo. Social media users stated the pictured individual was the person who hurled a fire extinguisher at U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, resulting in his death.
Nisivaco said Quintavalle, who has a spotless reputation, was enjoying his retirement, but now, has been forced to pick up the pieces following the misidentification.
"I can tell you from knowing what he's been through, [it] is extremely difficult to unring the bell," the attorney said. "What happened to Mr. Quintavalle is a sad example of how a case of mistaken identity and social media can destroy a person's life."
At a press conference Friday, the retired Chicago firefighter publicly addressed the wrongful accusations for the first time, calling for the people who made the posts to be held accountable.
"it's ruining people's lives, and they take no accountability for their actions on this," he said. "This needs to stop."
Quintavalle revealed that he received calls on both his home and cell phones and was called a murderer, killer and terrorist and told that he should rot in prison. His address was also put on the internet, the retired public servant said, and some people even drove by his house.
On Friday, as Quintavalle sought to clear his name at the news conference, he issued a frank warning to the public: if this can happen to me, it can happen to you.
"If we're looking down the road, I would really like...to somehow be a way to stop this social media, non-credible material put out there with no consequences whatsoever," he stated. "They can ruin someone's life. I would like to be able to stop this, so this doesn't happen to others."
The Chicago Fire Department issued a statement about the situation Thursday, saying "we are thankful the true perpetrator has been brought to justice, and our former member, who was wrongly accused, has been exonerated."
The man wearing the CFD hat was identified as Robert Sanford, a firefighter who retired from the Chester Fire Department in Pennsylvania last March. On Thursday, he was charged with including assault of a police officer, disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, civil disorder and unlawfully entering the Capitol.
The charges against Sanford are not related to the widely publicized attack on Officer Sicknick.
Sanford surrendered in the case after authorities say a friend saw the photos and contacted police.