Man gets probation for setting fire to La Mesa Chase Bank during protest
One of two men charged with setting fire to a Chase bank in La Mesa following last year's contentious protest outside the city's police headquarters received a term of probation Tuesday and was ordered to stay away from several La Mesa businesses connected with post-protest looting.
Ricky Bernard Cooper, 34, pleaded guilty last month to arson and burglary charges for the May 30, 2020, fire inside the Chase bank branch at 4791 Spring St., as well as for looting stores at the La Mesa Springs Shopping Center.
Co-defendant Alexander King, 20, still faces charges that include arson and burglary and is due back in court in December.
At Cooper's arraignment, Deputy District Attorney David Vallero alleged the defendant was one of several people who broke into businesses at the shopping center and took items on the night of May 30, 2020.
The prosecutor said Cooper also admitted to burning papers inside the bank, though the defendant claimed they "didn't catch." Vallero alleged that several people started fires inside the bank, which burned to the ground.
At Cooper's sentencing hearing, the prosecutor said part of what helped police identify Cooper was a video he recorded of himself at the protest and later posted on Facebook.
Along with probation and credit for time already served in custody, San Diego Superior Court Judge Steven Stone ordered that Cooper stay 100 yards away from the site of the former bank, and three businesses at the La Mesa Springs Shopping Center -- Sally's Beauty Supply, Play It Again Sports, and Vons.
Protests that took place in La Mesa on May 29 and May 30 of last year were sparked by the Memorial Day in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the arrest of another Black man, Amaurie Johnson, in La Mesa a few days prior to the protest.
Johnson's arrest by Officer Matthew Dages of the La Mesa Police Department was captured on video and proliferated over social media, prompting backlash against the police department and a federal lawsuit filed by Johnson against the city. Dages has since been charged with a felony count of filing a false police report for allegedly lying about the basis of his contact with Johnson and is set to go to trial this week.
The May 30 protest began with demonstrators marching on Interstate 8 in the afternoon, before the group moved to the La Mesa police station. Though the protest began peacefully, confrontation broke out at nightfall, with some protesters throwing objects and officers firing beanbag rounds and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The Chase bank was set on fire, along with another bank and the Randall Lamb and Associates building on Palm Avenue.