Tennessee Man Faces Federal Arson Charges in Connection to Metro Courthouse Fire During Protest
A criminal complaint issued today charged Wesley Somers, 25, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, with malicious destruction of property using fire or explosives.
“The Department of Justice will vindicate the First Amendment rights of all Americans to speak, assemble and seek a redress of grievances from their government,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “We cannot tolerate, however, those who would take advantage of moments of real anguish to endanger the innocent and destroy their property.”
“We will always vigorously defend the right of every individual to assemble and protest,” said U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee. “This is one of our most sacred liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment of our Constitution. We will also vigorously pursue those who choose to exploit such assemblies and use violence and intimidation in order to change the dynamics of an otherwise peaceful protest.”
The criminal complaint alleges that on the afternoon of May 30, 2020, protesters gathered in downtown Nashville following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Later in the evening, a number of persons gathered in front of Nashville City Hall, also known as the Metro Courthouse, and using various tools, including crowbars and other objects, began smashing the windows of the premises and spraying graffiti on the Courthouse facade. One or more fires were also set inside of the Courthouse at this time.
Numerous video clips and photographs of the destruction at the Courthouse were posted on social media websites, on the websites for news outlets, and on other Internet sites. Somers is depicted in video clips and photographs from that evening, shirtless and wearing beige cargo shorts. In those clips and photographs, Somers—whose distinctive chest tattoos portraying the words “WILD CHILD” and “HARD 2 Love,” among others, are occasionally visible — is depicted attempting to smash windows of the Courthouse with a long object. One photograph in particular, depicted Somers holding an unknown accelerant, which had been set on fire, and placing the accelerant through the window of the Courthouse. Somers is also depicted in a video clip setting fire to an accelerant and placing it inside a window located on the exterior of the Courthouse.
Somers was identified by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department – Specialized Investigation Division, after receiving numerous tips from citizens, and was arrested on state arson charges on May 31.
If convicted, Somers faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison.
Assistant Attorney General Demers and U.S. Attorney Cochran commended the actions of concerned citizens and the efforts of the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors who worked to quickly identify and bring these charges, including the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department; the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Schrader; and Trial Attorney Justin Sher of the Department’s Counterterrorism Section.
A criminal complaint is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.