Tennessee man faces federal arson charges in connection to Nashville courthouse fire

(Metro Nashville Police Department)
(Metro Nashville Police Department)(WVLT)
Published: Jun. 3, 2020 at 1:34 PM EDT
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Officials said a Tennessee man was charged in connection to the Nashville Metro Courthouse fire during protests on May 30.

A criminal complaint issued on Wednesday charged 25-year-old Wesley Somers 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.”

Protestors gathered in downtown Nashville in the afternoon on May 30 following the death of George Floyd. Later in the evening, a large group of people gathered in front of the Metro Courthouse. Officials said the group used crowbars and various other tools to smash the windows and spray graffiti on the courthouse. Multiple fires were reportedly set inside the courthouse.

Officials said numerous video clips and photos show Sommers attempting to smash windows of the courthouse. One photo reportedly showed Sommers holding an unknown accelerant that had been set on fire and thrown into the window 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.

“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.”

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