Federal officials say three Baton Rouge residents accused of deliberately setting fires "to make a statement" amid ongoing civil unrest last week did so after attending a rally along Siegen Lane to protest the death of George Floyd.
Documents filed in U.S. District Court accuse Terry Dorsey, 21, Kenyatta Huggins, 22, and Shamyrin Johnson, 22, of interfering with interstate commerce by setting fires at four businesses May 31 and June 1. The three each had previously been booked on two counts of simple arson and criminal conspiracy.
The fires damaged Tai Industries near Siegen Lane, a Plank Road tire shop and the Airline Highway locations of AAA Tire Shop and Autozone Auto Parts.
Three people were arrested in four related arson incidents throughout Baton Rouge Parish this week, officials said. All three told investigato…
An FBI special agent alleges that Dorsey, Huggins and Johnson made a collective decision to start the fires and did so after the three attended an anti-police brutality protest on Siegen Lane. That protest was generally peaceful, a contrast to several others held across the country after Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
According to local investigators, Dorsey was motivated to commit the arsons out of anger for "what was going on" and wanted to "attack who was attacking us."
Huggins said she and the others wanted to get people's attention to let them know "it is going on in Louisiana too," according to the affidavit. Johnson also said that while he was angry, he "got caught up in the wave, and wanted to stand up for what is right." He also claimed people in the Baton Rouge area are "being pushed to commit acts of vandalism by all the rappers on Instagram."
It is unclear which rappers Johnson was referencing.
The local owners who had their businesses damaged by the fires said that their inventory was either obtained from or shipped to suppliers and customers in other states, according to the affidavit. Because their goods cross state lines, federal prosecutors are able to raise claims that the three interfered with interstate commerce.
The first fire was set May 31 around 11:37 p.m. at Tai Industries, located on Fieldstone Drive near Siegen Lane. A stack of materials lit on fire outside caused the overhang of the main structure to partially collapse and destroyed a pickup truck parked near the blaze.
Then, around 12:30 a.m. on June 1, a fire was reported at a tire shop on Plank Road. BRFD spokesman Mark Miles said crews arrived to find a fire on the outside of the building. They were able to contain it before it reached the building's interior, but the structure sustained heavy damage.
Crews responded at 1:59 a.m. on June 1 to a third fire at AAA Tire Shop on Airline Highway, about 2 miles from the first fire. This fire was contained to a storage trailer.
Finally, around 7:01 that same morning, a fire was called in at Autozone Auto Parts on Airline Highway.
All three people now face the charge of conspiring to maliciously damage or destroy, by means of fire, buildings used in interstate commerce and in activities affecting interstate commerce. The charges were filed Monday. A conviction carries a sentence of five to 20 years in prison, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Since the outbreak of civil unrest following Floyd's death, U.S. Attorney General William Barr has drawn distinctions between peaceful protesters and "violent instigators."
Other cities have seen sometimes violent unrest that includes looting and arson this past week, prompting an outcry from the Department of Justice.
Barr said in a press release May 31 that "federal law enforcement actions will be directed at apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law."
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Acting Director Regina Lombardo said in a Thursday press conference that ATF special agents and fire investigators are tracking "more than 847 arsons" across the country.
In Baton Rouge, protests and demonstrations have been largely peaceful, often conducted in coordination with law enforcement or local government. Organizers of the Siegen Lane protests met with the mayor last week to discuss police reform and other demands, while students rallying at Louisiana State University gathered in the quadrangle alongside faculty, staff and board members to stand against racial discrimination.