A 20-year-old from Alaska has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for conspiracy to commit arson for a fire set outside Capitol Hill’s East Precinct last August. A week later, Seattle Police had walled off the building.
The sentencing comes as Seattle and the country approach the one year anniversary of the start of Black Lives Matter protests following the May 25th, 2020 police killing of George Floyd. That Friday, May 29th, protests began in Seattle as thousands marched and demonstrated, smashing windows at Capitol Hill’s Amazon grocery and Ferrari dealership, and clashing with police who made seven arrests.
The August arson fire followed weeks of protest and the formation and eventual police sweep of the occupied protest on Capitol Hill.
Desmond David-Pitts pleaded guilty to the federal charge earlier this year following his arrest for the August 2020 fire set outside the 12th and Pine building.
Police said others tried to block an exit from the building during the arson attempt following a night of protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. There were no reported significant injuries and damage was limited. As part of his sentence David-Pitts will also pay restitution to the Seattle Police Department for damaging the building.
David-Pitts had also taken part of anti-police protests in Alaska after his 16-year-old brother was killed by Anchorage police in early 2020. Prosecutors said police were able to identify the David-Pitts in a crowd outside the precinct “because of the distinctive pink camouflage trousers he was wearing.”
David-Pitts faced up to five years in prison.
Leading up to the August fire, fears of an arson attack on the building were a frequent talking point for SPD officials through the year of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and ongoing anti-police protests. Last June, Chief Carmen Best said “specific information from the FBI” about threats to the 12th and Pine facility drove the early thinking on SPD tactics to aggressively defend the building that led to the first major conflicts with protesters and eventually to SPD’s abandonment of the structure.
A large cement barrier added around the precinct to help protect the building following the August fire has since been removed and replaced by a tall security fence.
Prosecutors say U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour noted “the serious danger the fire posed to Seattle Police Officers who could have been trapped inside the building.”
With this week’s anniversaries of the start of the 2020 protests, there is renewed attention on the actions of former Chief Best and SPD leadership during the early days of unrest.
Earlier this month, Chief Adrian Diaz decided to reverse a finding from Seattle’s police accountability office that determined an order to use blast balls and gas on Capitol Hill protesters had been a mistake but promised “accountability for the totality of this incident” while apologizing “for the impacts to the community” from the crowd control actions. Diaz also said the investigation and discipline process, “as well as on-going broader assessments of what occurred” revealed new information regarding SPD’s command and decisions made around the crowd control activity. “I anticipate being able to quickly and fully reach a conclusion on who was accountable for the actions on that day and delivering appropriate accountability,” Diaz said.
Meanwhile, KUOW is reporting on a recent podcast appearance by former Chief Best that lays blame for the later decision to abandon the East Precinct on Best’s command staff at 12th and Pine:
“I think a few of the commanders,” Best said. “Not simply that ‘we’ve had enough,’ but they were thinking, ‘We’ve been told by the fire department that our building, which has contiguous walls to other buildings, that if it gets set on fire, it’s going up quickly. That’s a danger. And we’d already had the one precinct in Minneapolis that had been burned.'”
In November, CHS reported on the fateful decisions to pull SPD out of the East Precinct building and the tactical, on the ground decisions that led to it.
The City of Seattle, meanwhile, is still facing two major lawsuits stemming from the decision and its handling of CHOP. Last month, a federal lawsuit was filed against the city on behalf of the mother of Lorenzo Anderson, the 19-year-old shot and killed last June at 10th and Pine on the edge of the CHOP protest area. The lawsuit joins another major federal case proceeding against the city that alleges Seattle leaders also violated the rights of a collection of Capitol Hill property owners and businesses in the area of the CHOP camp.
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