A man who set fire to a historic commercial structure in downtown La Mesa following a police brutality protest that devolved into rioting pleaded guilty Wednesday to arson and vandalism charges.
Daniel Louis Sandoval, 44, of Campo, was arrested about six months after prosecutors say he ignited the May 31, 2020, blaze that destroyed the Randall Lamb and Associates Building on Palm Avenue.
The structure, which had been designated as historically significant by the La Mesa Historical Society, was one of several buildings, including two banks, burned to the ground during the unrest.
In addition to the Randall Lamb building fire, Sandoval pleaded guilty to a vandalism charge in connection with Spa Piel, a nearby business. He’s slated to be sentenced Nov. 29.
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 has since been charged with a felony count of filing a false police report for allegedly lying about the basis of his contact with Johnson.
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.
Sandoval’s guilty plea marks the third felony conviction in connection with the riot.
Ricky Bernard Cooper, 34, pleaded guilty last week to arson and burglary charges for the fire that destroyed the Chase bank branch on Spring Street.
Zachary Alexander Karas, 29, was sentenced in August to 33 months in federal prison after being convicted by a jury of bringing Molotov cocktails to the protest.