Man sentenced to prison for restaurant fire during 2020 protests

A San Fernando Valley man who admitted to setting a Santa Monica restaurant on fire during a period of social unrest in 2020 has been sentenced to federal prison, authorities confirmed.

Micah Tillmon, a 20-year-old West Hills resident, received an 18-month federal prison sentence, the US attorney’s office for the Central District of California said Wednesday.

He pleaded guilty in September to one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device, prosecutors said. A restitution hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

According to his plea agreement, Tillmon went inside Sake House by Hikari, a popular Japanese restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, on May 31, 2020, during protests over a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd.

The downtown Santa Monica restaurant and other businesses in the area had closed for the day in anticipation of burglars and vandals using the protests and police response as cover to wreak havoc.

In chaotic scenes broadcast live on television and over social media, police fired on protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas as people broke into businesses.

“While inside the restaurant, Tillmon possessed and used an incendiary device to ignite a fire that rapidly grew, enveloped the entire restaurant space and spread to other areas of the building adjacent to the restaurant,” prosecutors said.

Security video from the restaurant showed Tillmon take “a red tube-shaped object from his jacket” and put it behind a reception desk before walking away, according to law enforcement records filed in the case. Fire erupts within seconds.

Santa Monica firefighters responded and knocked down the blaze but had to leave the scene prematurely due to safety concerns caused by the civil unrest, prosecutors said.

“As a result, [firefighters] needed to return to the scene several times throughout the night to extinguish additional flare-ups,” prosecutors said. “The restaurant has since permanently closed.”

Tillmon was identified by Santa Monica police detectives after they reviewed security videos and social media posts, prosecutors said. Investigators also reviewed a video showing Tillmon’s white Ford Explorer parking next to the restaurant four minutes before the fire started and then reversed across the street soon after flames broke out.

“[Tillmon’s] Actions on May 31, 2020, were only possible because of a complete breakdown in social order,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Riots like the ones that convulsed this district in the summer of 2020 are a stark reminder of the thin line that separates state control and anarchy.”

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