A 21-year-old Washington, man was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 40 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release, for unlawful possession of destructive devices for his activities at a protest that turned violent in downtown Seattle, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.
Kelly Thomas Jackson was arrested in September 2020 when he was identified as the person who used Molotov cocktails to burn two Seattle Police vehicles in downtown Seattle on May 30, 2020.
At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart said, “The public’s right to peacefully protest has been repeatedly violated by people doing criminal things.” Judge Robart noted that throwing a Molotov Cocktail at police cars loaded with gasoline and potentially weapons was very dangerous for those in the area.
“Unlike the vast majority of demonstrators who came to downtown Seattle to protest peacefully against systemic racism, this defendant came armed with Molotov Cocktails – intent on dangerous destruction,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman. “The danger to others is captured in pictures from the scene: flames from the burning cars and burning gasoline spread accross the sidewalk, pollutant-filled smoke billowing into the crowd. This isn’t free speech – it is criminal conduct deserving of a federal prison sentence.”
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According to records filed in the case, following a May 30, 2020, demonstration in downtown Seattle, law enforcement had various videos of a white male suspect in distinctive clothing using glass containers with a flammable material and a wick to burn or attempt to burn two police vehicles. Jackson was identified as that man after an anonymous tip to law enforcement. An analysis of cell phone records placed Jackson in the area at the time of the fires.
Law enforcement obtained videos that show Jackson traveling into Seattle with at least one of the glass bottles with a wick. Other videos show Jackson throwing one Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle, then hiding himself in the crowd and jumping up and down with excitement after his crime. Another video shows the second Molotov cocktail thrown at the windshield of a police vehicle, bouncing off, and exploding in flames on the sidewalk outside the Nordstrom store. A review of Jackson’s internet activity demonstrated that he accessed web-based information on how to construct Molotov cocktails.
Writing to the Court, prosecutors noted the danger to “hundreds of people who were standing in the vicinity of the police cars that Jackson attacked. Many of these people were just a few feet away from the vehicles and even closer to the fires Jackson caused on the sidewalks adjacent to the vehicles. And, all of them were in harm’s way if one of the vehicles had exploded upon detonation of the Molotov cocktails.”
Jackson pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of a destructive device on January 6, 2021.
“While other individuals were expressing their First Amendment-protected rights, Mr. Jackson used this opportunity to destroy property and create chaos,” said Donald M. Voiret, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle Field Office. “This instigator researched his arsons and, on multiple occasions, endangered the safety of those nearby, as he helped to overshadow peaceful protests and escalate the environment into violence.”
“Jackson clearly planned not to come and peacefully protest, but to come and perpetrate criminal acts,” said ATF Seattle Special Agent in Charge Jonathan T. McPherson. “We respect everyone’s right to free speech, but free speech does not come in the form of a Molotov cocktail. His premeditated actions and complete disregard for the safety of those around him warrant this sentence.”
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), with assistance from the Seattle Police Department, the Edmonds Police Department, and the Mountlake Terrace Police Department.