Madison man sentenced to 5 years in prison for attempted arson during August protests

MADISON, Wis. — A Madison man is being sent to federal prison for 5 years for trying to set fire to two buildings during last summer’s protests of the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says 46-year-old Willie Tremaine Johnson pleaded guilty to federal charges of attempted arson. Johnson was originally indicted by a grand jury in October 2020.

Authorities accused Johnson of trying to set fire to two businesses during mass protests in the early morning hours of August 25, 2020. The U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that Johnson helped a group of people break the front windows of the first Madison business, then lit something on fire before tossing it onto gasoline that was poured by another person.

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At the second business, which also had people living in apartments above it, police said Johnson was one of many people who broke the retailer’s front windows and accused him of trying to light gasoline that had been poured on the building’s interior walls with a cigarette lighter. Police said Johnson ran away when officers arrived before the gasoline vapors were lit.

Surveillance images from the initial complaint showed Johnson at both buildings.

“Arson should never be confused with legitimate protest. Those who engage in such conduct without regard for the potentially deadly consequences will be held accountable,” Acting U.S. Attorney Timothy O’Shea said in a statement.

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Johnson and another woman, Anessa Fierro were charged with attempted arson in September before they were indicted the next month.

Fierro’s plea and sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 19.