Man sentenced for arson during 2020 George Floyd riot in downtown Charleston
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A judge has sentenced a Saint Stephen man to federal prison in connection with several incidents of arson during the George Floyd protests in downtown Charleston three years ago.
Shabazz Akeem Isiah Watson, 27, will spend five years in prison after pleading guilty to arson during the protests and riots that occurred on May 30-31, 2020, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Brook Andrews said.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that at 10:33 p.m. on May 30, 2020, Watson entered a wine bar on King Street, took several paper menus from the counter, set them on fire with a lighter and placed them under a wooden barstool. Prosecutors say he repeated this process multiple times until the fire grew.
At 11:09 p.m., he entered a King Street clothing store and lit merchandise and clothing on fire there and quickly left, prosecutors said. Before the fires grew out of control, authorities said another person entered the store and used a fire extinguisher to put the fires out.
At 11:55 p.m., court documents said Watson entered a Meeting Street paint store where he lit a cardboard display on fire.
Then at 12:55 a.m. on May 31, 2020, he entered another Meeting Street retail store where he lit several items on fire.
“Watson then walked to the paper towel/toilet paper row and lit several more items on fire,” Andrews said. “The fires grew rapidly and eventually burned the entire building and everything inside, resulting in the business remaining closed for several months during repairs.”
The protests were in response to the May 25, 2020, death of Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis. His death sparked a series of protests nationwide.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will defend the right of every South Carolinian to peacefully protest and to protest without threats to their physical safety,” U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said. “Those who use protests as cover for violent acts that endanger our community will be held accountable. We are grateful to ATF, the Charleston Police Department, and the Charleston Fire Department, whose thorough and professional investigations brought this arsonist to justice.”
United States District Judge Richard Gergel’s sentence also includes a three-year term of court-ordered supervision after his prison sentence. There is no parole in the federal system.
All told, prosecutors said Watson caused $2,415,510.75 in damage to the four businesses. Watson was also ordered to pay restitution in that full amount as part of his sentencing.
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