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June 17, 2021

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Tacoma man pleads guilty to setting fire to Seattle police building during 2020 protests

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Tacoma — A Tacoma man has pleaded guilty to arson for setting fire to a Seattle Police Department building last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

Isaiah Thomas Willoughby, 36, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 4.

Defense attorney Dennis Carroll said in a statement Wednesday: “Isaiah Willoughby was housemates with Manny Ellis when Mr. Ellis was killed by law enforcement officers. Mr. Willoughby’s actions in setting the fire at the East Precinct were motivated in large part by the killing of his friend Manny, the murder of George Floyd, and his own experiences with law enforcement. After learning that the State of Washington would hold Manny’s killers accountable, Mr. Willoughby decided that he would take accountability for his own actions by entering a plea of guilty for his actions related to a fire he set at the Seattle Police Department East Precinct.”

Ellis died while being restrained by Tacoma police in March 2020. Three officers were charged last month in his death, two with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter and another with first-degree manslaughter.

In the case against Willoughby, prosecutors said video showed the defendant pouring gasoline on debris next to the Seattle Police East Precinct building and setting the debris on fire June 12, 2020.

“The fire scorched the side of the building, but was extinguished by those nearby using fire extinguishers, and pulling the flaming debris away from the building,” a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release said. “After the Seattle Police Department released pictures of the arson suspect, various people recognized Willoughby and noted that the distinctive sweatshirt came from a clothing line he represents.”

Family members told police he’d been in Seattle at the time in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest Zone, commonly known as CHOP, prosecutors said.

“Following the fire, Willoughby took steps to remove posts from his social media accounts that may have linked him to the arson,” the news release said. “However, at least some of his Facebook posts remain, noting his anger at police and his knowledge of the East Precinct building.”

Prosecutors plan to recommend a sentence of three years.

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