Baltimore, Maryland – Darius Raymond Stewart, age 22, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty today to malicious destruction of property by fire, arising from the arson of a liquor store on April 27, 2015, during the riots following the death of Freddie Gray. One victim was seriously injured inside the store, and another escaped with minor injuries.
“Surveillance cameras recorded while Darius Stewart maliciously set fire to a store with people inside, and other rioters viciously attacked the store owner,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Citizens deserve to know that the rule of law will be upheld, and criminals who destroy property and jeopardize lives will be held accountable.”
The plea agreement was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Acting Special Agent in Charge Frank Riehl of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) - Baltimore Field Division; and Commissioner Kevin Davis of the Baltimore Police Department.
According to his plea agreement, on April 27, 2015, during civil unrest in the wake of the funeral for Freddie Gray, there was widespread looting, and multiple structure and vehicle fires were set in Baltimore. The two owners of a liquor store located on West North Avenue were inside their store when the first wave of approximately 20 to 30 people entered the business and began banging on the bulletproof plexiglass window with pipes and crow bars. The group was chased off by a community member.
Shortly thereafter, a second wave of approximately 150 people entered the business and began ransacking and looting the store. One of the business owners was assaulted, resulting in a head injury requiring stitches, and was eventually rescued by police. Baltimore CitiWatch surveillance footage captured individuals robbing and repeatedly assaulting the owner as he was outside his store while it was being looted.
The second owner fled upstairs and was able to hide on an enclosed balcony as the looters broke down the door and looted the second floor.
At approximately 8:30 p.m. that night, Stewart set three fires inside the store. Surveillance footage clearly captured Stewart starting the fires and then going out to the street to get paper and cardboard to feed the fires he had set.
Smoke from the fires spread upstairs where the second owner was hiding. He was able to escape the burning building by using the gutter in an effort to slow his fall as he jumped to the ground. He suffered head trauma and injured his ankle. He was able to escape in his vehicle.
Baltimore City Fire Department responded to the scene. While extinguishing the fire, fire department personnel discovered an unconscious victim in the basement of the building. The victim suffered smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, and was hospitalized for five days.
The damage caused by the fire was extensive and it is estimated that it will cost approximately $350,000 to repair and restore the building. Stewart has agreed to the entry of an order to pay restitution of at least $350,000.
Stewart and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea agreement, Stewart will be sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis has scheduled sentencing for July 21, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended ATF and the Baltimore City Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Judson T. Mihok, who is prosecuting the case.