A Seattle man has been arrested and charged with arson and three firearms-related felonies for allegedly helping set fire to one Seattle police car and then stealing an assault-style patrol rifle out of another.
Tyre Wayne Means Jr. was charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Thursday, the latest in a string of federal prosecutions stemming from civil unrest that swept Seattle and the country following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Means was arrested Wednesday during a trip to visit his state Department of Corrections probation officer in Bremerton, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a post on the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) website. According to SPD, he was identified Aug. 12 as a suspect in the arson and theft, which occurred outside the flagship Nordstrom store in Seattle during tumultuous downtown protests on May 30.
Means appeared before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida Thursday, who ordered him held in custody pending a hearing on Friday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg said the government will oppose Means’ release.
He is charged with a single count of arson for allegedly lighting a paper towel and throwing it into the vehicle, starting a fire that others fed with lighter fluid and other fuel. That vehicle and four other police vehicles were destroyed by fire that day, according to criminal charges filed in U.S. District Court.
The charges allege that Means then went to another, nearby damaged police car and removed a black canvas bag that contained an assault-style patrol rifle belonging to a Seattle police officer. The complaint said there were three rifles in the vehicle and that the other two were locked up. There was no room to lock up the third, the charges say.
According to the charges, another individual attempted to retrieve the bag from Means and the two got into a scuffle. Means was forced to drop the rifle case to defend himself and a third individual came by, picked up the case and left the area. The gun was returned to the Seattle Police Department’s West Precinct later that day, the charges state.
The charges describe those two individuals as “good Samaritans” and said they remain unidentified.
Means is charged with three crimes for that alleged theft: possession of a stolen firearm and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. Means was prohibited from legally owning a gun in connection with a 2015 traffic accident and police obstruction-related felony conviction in Georgia and the other referencing a 2018 felony domestic-violence conviction out of Kitsap County Superior Court.
However, the arson charge carries the most severe penalty: a mandatory minimum five years in prison with a maximum sentence of 20 years. Each of the firearms charges carries a maximum prison penalty of up to 10 years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Means is the second individual charged by the Department of Justice in connection with firearms stolen from police during the demonstrations, which involved thousands of mostly peaceful protesters. Last month, federal agents arrested and charged Jacob Little for allegedly stealing another police rifle fitted with a silencer and red-dot sighting system from another patrol vehicle that same day.
On Thursday, King County prosecutors charged Little with an additional crime: He faces charges of second-degree assault for purportedly shooting a handgun into a crowd of car enthusiasts gathered in a parking lot at the Renton Uwajimaya in the early morning hours of May 30, before the protests began. The complaint alleges Little fired a handgun at another individual but missed. The bullet struck a 15-year-old in the shoulder, the charges alleged.
U.S. Attorney Brian Moran said the arrest of Means and the other prosecutions undertaken by his office stemming from incidents of violence and crimes at the fringe of the otherwise peaceful protests “should be a wake-up call for those who think they can commit crimes hidden by a crowd.”
The charges, which contain a number of surveillance and still photographs, allege Means was wearing a bright red tracksuit during the incident and has distinctive tattoos, jewelry and other markings that helped police identify him from publicly available video and photos from that day.
Police originally had sought photos and video from Seattle journalists, resulting in an outcry from reporters and editors and a ruling out of a Superior Court judge that many believed threatened journalistic independence and safety. The police later dropped those efforts.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Tyre Wayne Means Jr. is a Bremerton resident. He was living in Seattle at the time of his arrest.