Man Charged With Burning Seattle Police Cars During Seattle Riot

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
September 10, 2020Updated: September 10, 2020

The Department of Justice on Sept. 9 charged an Edmonds, Washington, man with setting police vehicles on fire during a violent protest in downtown Seattle on May 30.

Kelly Thomas Jackson, 20, was arrested Wednesday morning and charged (pdf) in U.S. District Court with two counts of arson and two counts of unlawful possession of a destructive device, the justice department said.

According to the criminal complaint, as law enforcement officials began to investigate the torching of Seattle police vehicles during a violent protest in May, investigators reviewed a number of videos that appeared to show Jackson throwing Molotov cocktails in or at two police vehicles. He was dressed in a distinctive sweatshirt and gas mask at the time.

“After the bottle entered (the vehicle), flames spread rapidly, almost instantaneously, through the passenger compartment,” court papers state.

A second Molotov cocktail hit and bounced off another police vehicle, the exploded in flames outside a Nordstrom store in downtown Seattle.

Image shows Kelly Thomas Jackson, 20, at a violent protest in downtown Seattle, Washington, on May 30. (US District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle)

The 20-year-old was identified as a potential suspect after law enforcement received an anonymous tip. He was later observed by federal agents as wearing the same clothing as the male suspect in the footage, and a court-authorized analysis of his cell phone location data placed him in the location of the arsons.

Jackson also had screenshots on his phone that included information about the demonstration, and information on how to construct Molotov cocktails, the justice department said.

If convicted of arson, Jackson faces a mandatory minimum five years jail sentence and up to 20 years in prison. Possession of a destructive device is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

No attorney was listed for the 20-year-old in court records, The Associated Press reported.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office continues to work closely with state, local, and federal law enforcement to prosecute those who turn protected speech into violent criminal conduct,” U.S. Attorney Brian Moran said in a statement.  “Not every criminal act will implicate a federal interest, but where there is federal jurisdiction we will use our tools to hold law-breakers accountable.”

Jackson’s case is being investigated by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with assistance from the Seattle, Edmonds, and Mountlake Terrace police departments.

Eight people now face federal charges related to the Seattle riots.

Margaret Aislinn Channon pleaded not guilty to allegations she burned five Seattle police cars during the same violent demonstration as Jackson on May 30. The pair threw a Molotov cocktail into a vehicle at a similar time, and Channon used an aerosol can and open flame, prosecutors said.

Monday meanwhile saw the arrests of 22 people during a violent demonstration in the city, with people and rioters hurling rocks, explosives, and bottles at law enforcement officers, according to the Seattle Police Department. Intact Molotov cocktails were recovered from the scene.

Video footage showed a number of people dressed in the style favored by Antifa, the far-left anarcho-communist group, forming a line and facing off with police before officers rushed the line and made arrests.

“These individuals are hijacking legitimate First Amendment protected activity,” Raymond Duda, Special Agent in Charge FBI Seattle said Wednesday. “By investigating this violent activity, the messages of peaceful protests have a better chance of being hear.”

Zachary Stieber and The Associated Press contributed to this report.