A man who took part in burning down a historic commercial structure in downtown La Mesa following a police brutality protest that devolved into rioting was sentenced Thursday to credit for time served and two years of probation.
Daniel Louis Sandoval, 44, was arrested about six months after prosecutors say he and others set fire to the structure, which had been designated as historically significant by the La Mesa Historical Society, was one of several buildings, including two banks, that burned to the ground during the unrest.
Photos: La Mesa Protest on May 30, 2020
Sandoval, who has already served about a year in jail, pleaded guilty to an arson count last year for the fire, as well as a vandalism charge in connection with Spa Piel, a nearby business.
Sandoval was also sentenced to a suspended six-year-prison term, meaning he will receive the prison time if he violates the terms of his probation.
Deputy District Attorney Joe McLaughlin said part of the reason for reaching a resolution that includes probation is that Sandoval's role in the crime "wasn't as large as some might have thought in the past."
McLaughlin said Sandoval's part in the building fire involved putting pages from a book onto an already burning fire, while others who remain at large utilized Molotov cocktails to set the bulk of the blaze.
The prosecutor also said that mitigating factors of "significant" past trauma and substance abuse issues in Sandoval's life played a role in recommending probation.
Though "the devastation in La Mesa was incredible and it's lingering to this day," the prosecutor said that with probation and his continuing drug rehabilitation, "hopefully, [this will] make this individual a excellent member of society and I think he can be."
The protest was sparked by the Memorial Day in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the arrest of another Black man, Amaurie Johnson, in La Mesa a few days later.
Johnson's arrest by La Mesa Police Department Officer Matthew Dages was captured on video and proliferated over social media, prompting extensive backlash against the police department and a federal lawsuit filed by Johnson against the city. Dages was later charged with a felony count of filing a false police report for allegedly lying about the basis of his contact with Johnson, but was acquitted by an El Cajon jury.
The protest began with demonstrators marching on Interstate 8 in the afternoon, before the group moved to the La Mesa police station. Though the protest began peacefully, confrontation broke out at nightfall, with some protesters throwing objects and officers firing beanbag rounds and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Several protesters and bystanders were struck by "less than lethal" law enforcement rounds, leading to a slew of lawsuits against the city and police department, among others.
Sandoval's guilty plea marked the third felony conviction in connection with the riot.
Ricky Bernard Cooper pleaded guilty to arson and burglary charges for the fire that destroyed the Chase bank branch on Spring Street. He also received a two-year probation term.
Zachary Alexander Karas was sentenced in August to 33 months in federal prison after being convicted by a jury of bringing Molotov cocktails to the protest.