A 21-year-old Edmonds man will serve more than three years in federal prison and three years of supervised release when he gets out after pleading guilty to torching two police cars using Molotov cocktails during downtown Seattle protests over racism and police violence this summer.
Kelly Thomas Jackson was identified in video and by witnesses as the person who threw the incendiary devices on May 30, when thousands gathered downtown, most to peacefully protest the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.
Some in the crowd threw items at police, who reacted with pepper spray and tear gas. Five police cars were burned and businesses were looted and vandalized. Thomas was arrested several days later after he was identified in surveillance video due to unique clothing and other identifying marks, police said.
In handing down a 40-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge James Robart said Thomas’ actions disrupted and interfered with legal, peaceful protests.
“The public’s right to peacefully protest has been repeatedly violated by people doing criminal things.” Robart said, adding that throwing a Molotov cocktail at police cars loaded with gasoline and possibly firearms was very dangerous for those in the area.
“Unlike the vast majority of demonstrators who came to downtown Seattle to protest peacefully against systemic racism, this defendant came armed with Molotov cocktails — intent on dangerous destruction,” said Tessa Gorman, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, in a statement. “The danger to others is captured in pictures from the scene: flames from the burning car and burning gasoline spread across the sidewalk, pollutant-filled smoke billowing into the crowd. This isn’t free speech — it is criminal conduct deserving of a federal prison sentence.”
Jackson was pinpointed as a suspect by an anonymous tipster, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
In a memorandum seeking a more lenient two-year prison term, Jackson’s attorney, Robert Goldsmith, noted that Jackson suffers from bipolar disorder and has substance abuse issues, but has never been in trouble before. The memo said Jackson still lives with his parents and has maintained a job to help pay for his court expenses. Goldsmith submitted a number of letters from neighbors and community members asking for lenience.
Gorman said an analysis of cellphone records placed Jackson in the area at the time of the fires, and police were able to obtain surveillance video that showed Jackson traveling into Seattle with at least one glass bottle with a wick. Other videos show Jackson throwing one Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle, then hiding himself in the crowd and then celebrating as the car burned. Another video shows the second Molotov cocktail thrown at the windshield of a police vehicle, bouncing off, and exploding in flames on the sidewalk outside the downtown flagship Nordstrom store, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office.
A review of Jackson’s internet activity showed he accessed information online about how to construct Molotov cocktails, Gorman’s office said.
Jackson pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of a destructive device on Jan. 6, 2021.