SEATTLE — A Tacoma man pleaded guilty Wednesday to setting the outside of the Seattle Police East Precinct on fire during the CHOP protest in June of 2020, according to Acting US Attorney Tessa Gorman.
Isaiah Willoughby, 36, faces up to five years in prison, according to a release from Gorman's office.
In the early morning hours of June 12, 2020, Willoughby was wearing a distinctive sweatshirt when he was captured on surveillance video near debris piled next to the wall of the Seattle Police East Precinct, according to documents. Willoughby admitted to pouring gas on the debris. Video shows him lighting something on fire, and tossing it on the debris pile. Willoughby is then seen walking away.
The fire scorched the inside of the building but was extinguished by those nearby using fire extinguishers and pulling flaming debris from the building, according to the release.
Various people recognized Willoughby from pictures released by the Seattle Police Department. Relatives of Willoughby also confirmed he was in Seattle in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) Zone at the time of the fire, according to the release.
Following the fire, Willoughby removed several posts from his social media accounts that could have linked him to the arson.
Willoughby's lawyer said he was a close friend of Manuel Ellis, who was killed by Tacoma police in March of 2020. Willoughby told his lawyer Ellis's death motivated him to set fire to the East Precinct.
“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,” a statement from Willoughby's attorney reads.
Willoughby has been in custody at the Federal Detention Center at Seatac since his arrest on July 14, 2020, according to the release. Under a plea agreement, the government will recommend a 3-year prison term.