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Suspects Who Torched Police Car During 2020 Riots Could Be Tried Again


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By Jorge Casuso

May 13, 2024 -- Two men accused of setting fire to a Santa Monica police car during the 2020 riots could stand trial after a federal judge threw out their case two years ago.

Federal prosecutors last week asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate arson charges against Nathan Wilson and Christopher Beasley arguing that the federal judge erred in his ruling, Courthouse News Service (CNS) reported.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin, an Obama appointee, ordered prosecutors to turn over internal data defense attorneys said would show the two men were selectively prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

When prosecutors refused, Olguin -- who noted there were plenty of arson cases in LA County but federal prosecutions "solely for arson" were very rare -- threw out the case, according to CNS.

At the hearing in Pasadena May 6, prosecutor Alexander Robbins argued that Olguin "inferred" a discriminatory intent from a Barr memorandum that instructed prosecutors to prioritize charging those who committed politically motivated violence.

"Being a left-wing extremist doesn't give one the right to burn a police car or, for that matter, to attack people physically at a protest," said Robbins, according to CNS. "Nor does being a right-wing extremist."

U.S. Circuit Judge Danielle Forrest, a Trump appointee on the three-judge panel, wondered how to determine why some suspects were chosen for prosecution and others were not.

"If you narrow it down to arsons that occurred in the context of a protest, how could you ever know whether prosecution was being targeted toward First Amendment activity?" Forrest wondered, according to the news report.

"Because you would theoretically always have First Amendment activity at issue within that control group."

U.S. District Judge James Donato, an Obama appointee, questioned how a defendant can "establish the grounds for a selective prosecution claim" without the data requested by the defense.

"They don't know what the U.S. attorney has declined to prosecute," said Donata, as quoted by CNS. "That is knowledge that you need to get from the prosecutors."

The third judge on the panel that will determine whether to reinstate the arson charges is Judge Patrick Bomatay, a Trump appointee.

According to the Justice Department's appeal, Beasley was quickly identified from a video of the incident posted on social media.

"Beasley, turned out to be a longtime member of the Westside Crips street gang, and shortly after the George Floyd protest, he posted a video on Twitter in which he said that the solution to cops killing Black people was 'to kill cops,'" CNS wrote.

Wilson, then 27, who was wearing a bandana and hat, was more difficult to identify and was arrested more than four months after SMPD and the FBI issued a wanted poster in early June.

Nathan Wilson
Nathan Wilson (Courtesy FBI)

In a federal criminal complaint, Wilson was charged "with malicious damage to property owned by an institution or organization receiving federal financial assistance," according to an October 2020 press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

A witness told law enforcement they had driven Wilson to Santa Monica on May 31 and believed he had set the fire that destroyed the unmarked police car parked at the loading dock of the Civic Center.

The witness directed authorities to one of Wilson’s social media accounts where he posted a “selfie” on Instagram taken in Santa Monica on May 31.

In the selfie, Wilson "appeared exactly like the person seen in other social media posts who stoked the fire that destroyed the police car," the affidavit alleged.

The search ended when Wilson became a suspect in a September 28 vehicle arson in Irvine following a domestic dispute with his live-in partner, according to the affidavit.

On October 9, Santa Monica Police officers, together with the Irvine Police Department and the FBI, executed a search warrant at the Irvine residence "and found Wilson hiding in a mattress box spring in the bedroom," according to prosecutors.

"During that search, authorities recovered items of clothing that appear to be the same seen on Wilson in the various photos taken near the destroyed police car," prosecutors said.

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