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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

CHOP protester sentenced 2 years in prison for lighting fire outside Seattle police East Precinct

By Daisy Zavala Seattle Times

A Tacoma resident was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday for setting a fire outside the Seattle Police East Precinct during the CHOP occupation on Capitol Hill in June 2020.

Isaiah Thomas Willoughby, who previously lived in Seattle, admitted he used gasoline to soak a debris pile outside the abandoned police precinct on June 12 and set it ablaze, as part of a plea agreement, according to a news release from Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman.

The U.S. District Court in Seattle also imposed a 3-year period of supervised release following the 2-year sentence, according to the release.

Surveillance video showed Willoughby, 36, lighting the fire and walking away. The fire, the U.S. attorney’s office said, put some protestors who were camping in the area at risk and scorched the side of the police building before it was extinguished by other protesters.

Several people recognized Willoughby, in a distinctive bright yellow sweatshirt from a clothing line he represented on social media, from the photos Seattle Police Department released after the incident.

Relatives also reported to police that he was at the protest at the time of the fire, and Willoughby took steps to remove social media posts that may have linked him to the case, according to the release.

Willoughby’s own experiences with law enforcement and the murders of Manuel Ellis and George Floyd at the hands of police largely motivated his decision to light the fire, his attorney Dennis Carroll said in a statement. But after learning the officers would be charged, Carroll said Willoughby decided to plead guilty and take responsibility.

Willoughby was a friend and housemate of Ellis, who was killed by Tacoma police officers on May 3, 2020. The officers stopped the unarmed Ellis, without cause, and initiated a confrontation that ended with Ellis beaten, stunned and suffocating to death.

Three officers were charged with felonies 450 days after Ellis was killed during a period of mass protests demanding police reform and accountability for the use of violent police force against Black people.

Willoughby has been in custody at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac since his arrest on July 14, 2020, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.