Man Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Arson, Looting During Baltimore Riots

June 26, 2016 Updated: June 26, 2016

A Baltimore man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for arson, assault, and looting in the wake of the riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray in April last year.

Donta Betts was sentenced Friday after pleading guilty in a federal courtroom. Betts, 20, was accused of attempting to torch a police car, looting a CVS pharmacy, and setting toilet paper placed on propane tanks on fire to prevent police officers from entering the pharmacy.

The propane cylinders exploded, sending debris and metal into crowds of people.

Betts’ sentencing was announced by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Rod J. Rosenstein.

“Donta Betts engaged in arson, looting, assault, and other mayhem during the Baltimore riots,” Rosenstein said in a statement. He added that Betts threw rocks at a police car, attempted to destroy police cars, looted a pharmacy as well as a liquor store and a shoe store. In an unrelated case, Betts also “tried to murder a woman over a $20 drug dispute, then he conspired to get her to sign a false affidavit,” the statement read.

“We caught him only because police and prosecutors spent many hours reviewing video and audio recordings,” Rosenstein continued. “It may sound like a story arc from a TV series, but it is real life in Baltimore.”

Betts was spotted on surveillance video entering the CVS on North Avenue before removing merchandise from the shelves. When he set off the propane tanks, he was also captured on camera at the scene and was broadcast by a number of national media outlets.

“This man was an armed drug dealer, and because he was carrying a gun, he used it to try to kill a woman over a $20 drug debt,” Rosenstein told the Baltimore Sun. “Too many of the 344 murders and 700 nonfatal shootings last year were over similar pointless beefs. That is what happens when criminals are allowed to carry loaded guns.”

Betts’ attorney, Shari Heather Silver, argued that Betts should receive a more lenient sentence based on his youth and “cognitive limitations,” the Sun reported. She said Betts is a “scared, remorseful individual.”

Meanwhile, he was one of thousands of young people who engaged in rioting last year. “He cannot be held responsible for everyone else’s conduct,” she said.

The investigation into the arsons that occurred on April 27, 2015, is ongoing, and anyone with information is urged to call the ATF hotline at 1-888-ATF-FIRE (283-3473). The agency continues to offer a reward of up to $10,000 for information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of a person responsible for the incidents.