Man Pleads Guilty to Arson in Connection With La Mesa Chase Bank Fire

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
October 22, 2021 Updated: October 22, 2021

EL CAJON, Calif.—One of two men charged with setting fire to a Chase bank in La Mesa, California, following last year’s contentious protest outside the city’s police headquarters pleaded guilty Oct. 21 to arson and burglary charges.

Ricky Bernard Cooper, 34, is set to be sentenced next month for the May 30, 2020, fire inside the Chase bank branch at 4791 Spring St. He also pleaded guilty to a burglary count in connection with looting stores at the La Mesa Springs Shopping Center.

The May 30 protest—sparked by the Memorial Day in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the controversial arrest of another Black man, Amaurie Johnson, in La Mesa a few days prior—began with demonstrators marching on Interstate 8 in the afternoon, before the group moved to the La Mesa police station.

A confrontation broke out at nightfall, with some protesters throwing objects, and officers firing beanbag rounds and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The Chase bank was set on fire, along with another bank and the Randall Lamb and Associates building on Palm Avenue.

Co-defendant Alexander King, 20, still faces charges that include arson and burglary and is due back in court in December.

At Cooper’s arraignment, Deputy District Attorney David Vallero alleged the defendant was one of several people who broke into businesses at the shopping center and took items on the night of May 30.

The prosecutor said Cooper also admitted to burning papers inside the bank, though he claimed they “didn’t catch.” Vallero alleged that several people lit fires inside the bank, which burned to the ground.

Johnson’s arrest by La Mesa police officer Matthew Dages was captured on video and proliferated over social media, prompting an extensive backlash against the police department and a federal lawsuit filed by Johnson against the city.

Dages has since been charged with a felony count of filing a false police report for allegedly lying about the basis of his contact with Johnson.