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Press Release

Man Sentenced to 33 months in Prison for Possessing Molotov Cocktails at La Mesa Protest

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Man Sentenced to 33 months in Prison for Possessing Molotov Cocktails at La Mesa Protest

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – August 13, 2021

SAN DIEGO – Zachary Alexander Karas was sentenced in federal court today to 33 months in prison for possessing incendiary devices known as Molotov cocktails at a protest that began on May 30, 2020, in La Mesa.

“This defendant’s conduct endangered the welfare and safety of officers and protesters,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “He knowingly and intentionally constructed and brought Molotov cocktails to a crowded and volatile situation with the intention of using them, and this sentence reflects the very serious nature of his offense.” Grossman commended prosecutors Matthew Brehm and Joseph Orabona, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI, and investigators from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for their excellent work on this case.

“Today’s sentence should send a clear message to those who choose violence as a form of expression,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “The FBI is proud to work alongside our local, state, and federal partners on the Joint Terrorism Task Force to protect the right to peacefully assemble while keeping our communities safe.”

“The possession of the destructive devices known as Molotov cocktails has the potential to lead to violent crime,” said Los Angeles Field Division ATF Special Agent in Charge Monique Villegas. “Molotov cocktails can destroy lives and damage property. This prosecution and sentencing is a prime example of our commitment to the communities we serve to prevent individuals from possessing such destructive devices. Strong partnerships with our partner law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Office result in safer communities.” 

Karas was convicted by a federal jury on May 11, 2021 and was immediately taken into custody following the verdict.

According to evidence presented at trial, on May 31, 2020, at 2:00 a.m., hours after police had declared an unlawful assembly and given numerous dispersal orders, Karas was standing in the middle of the road at the intersection of Allison Avenue and Spring Street, blocking traffic as part of the protest in La Mesa.

At the time of the protest in La Mesa, several fires had been set, and those fires damaged buildings and  property. In fact, Karas was standing in the street in front of the Chase and Union banks that had been set ablaze. In the early morning hours of May 31, 2020, at approximately 2:00 a.m., officers gave orders to the crowd, including Karas, to disperse for an unlawful assembly. However, Karas and others refused, and Karas was arrested for refusing to leave his position in the middle of the street. After his arrest, officers discovered that Karas possessed two glass bottles with wicks that contained gasoline and two smoke bombs.

In video-recorded statements, after being read his Miranda rights, Karas stated that he made the Molotov cocktails and brought them to the La Mesa protest because he intended to use them to set fires, but claimed he ultimately did not cause any fires. Karas said he got the bottles from a Rite Aid parking lot and used 87 octane gasoline as the fuel.

A chemist with the ATF laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, tested the liquid found inside Karas’ Molotov cocktails and confirmed it was gasoline. An explosives enforcement officer with the ATF received the chemist’s analysis, inspected the physical evidence, and found that the Molotov cocktails were functioning destructive devices.

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 20CR1842-DMS                                           

Zachary Alexander Karas                               Age: 29                       San Diego, CA


Possession of an Unregistered Destructive Device – Title 26, U.S.C., Section 5861

Maximum penalty: Ten years in prison and $250,000 fine


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Federal Bureau of Investigation

San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

Updated August 13, 2021

Firearms Offenses
Press Release Number: CAS21-0813-Karas