LOS ANGELES (CN) — A 20-year-old Los Angeles man will spend 18 months in prison for torching a Japanese restaurant in Santa Monica, California, after a demonstration over the police killing of George Floyd devolved into widespread looting in the beach city.
Micah Tillmon will also have to pay as much as $1 million in restitution for the damage he caused to Sake House by Hikari and an adjacent optometrist. The exact amount of restitution will be determined at a later hearing unless the prosecution and his lawyers can agree on the number.
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald sentenced Tillmon on Wednesday to a prison term of less than half the 37 months the government had asked for, which was already at the very low end of the sentencing guidelines.
The judge said there were extraordinary circumstances that merited the lower sentence, including Tillmon's age and the efforts he has made to put his life back on track since he was charged. However, sentencing the young man to only the 17 days he spent in custody already as his attorney had asked would make a mockery out of justice, the judge said.
"The seriousness of this crime can hardly be overstated, except for the fact that no one was injured or died," Fitzgerald said. "This wasn't just a spur of the moment thing."
Tillmon pleaded guilty in 2021 to possession of an unregistered destructive device. He admitted going inside the closed restaurant after the city had imposed a curfew because of the riots and placing an incendiary device behind the reception desk. The fire he started quickly engulfed the entire restaurant and spread to the rest of the building. Santa Monica firefighters had to abandon efforts to contain the blaze because they were targeted by rioters.
The May 31, 2020, protests in Santa Monica were one of many throughout the U.S. and the world in response to the graphic killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police in Minneapolis days earlier. As in other cities, the demonstrations themselves were peaceful but groups of people took advantage of the unrest to embark on looting sprees. In Santa Monica, an affluent city along the Pacific Ocean, these groups smashed the store windows of high-end retailers to steal as much merchandise as they could carry.
Tillmon was captured on security cameras within Sake House and also on surrounding streets with two companions, going in and out of stores through smashed windows and putting stolen merchandise in his parked Ford Explorer.
"Defendant’s actions on May 31, 2020, can certainly be described as ill-advised, but they cannot be characterized as rash," prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said in their sentencing memorandum. "Defendant did not set fire to Sake House in a fit of protest-induced rage. The George Floyd-inspired protest that occurred in Santa Monica that day took place blocks away and happened hours earlier."
The fire Tillmon started caused more than $10 million in damage to the building, according to government, but the insurer isn't pursuing restitution from Tillmon. Sake House's insurer, which is a different one from the insurer of the building, seeks $368,000 in restitution for damage to the restaurant.
Tillmon's lawyer with the federal public defender's office had asked that Tillmon be sentenced to the time he already served in custody, arguing that he “is the type of defendant who deserves a second chance.” Not only was he just 18 years old when he set fire to the restaurant, he has since matured significantly, is holding down a job and preparing to go to college, according to the defense's sentencing position.
Tillmon and his younger sister were raised by their mother who was an avid drug user and worked as a stripper, according to his attorney. His mother, who is now homeless, pushed her children into using marijuana from a young age, she said. Tillmon and his sister have been living with their aunt and her daughter, and he's been involved in caring for the younger children, his lawyer said.
At the sentencing hearing, Tillmon apologized for his actions and said whatever sentence he'd receive will not deter him from continuing the progress he has made and going to college.
"Deterring this from happening again is my goal as well," he told the judge. "I have the ability to give back what I've taken, and knowing that I have this ability has given me so much peace."
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