EL CAJON (CNS) – A man accused of setting a bank ablaze and looting several stores following a contentious May police protest in La Mesa pleaded not guilty Tuesday to nearly a dozen felony arson, burglary and vandalism charges.
Ricky Bernard Cooper, 33, is charged with setting a fire inside the Chase bank branch at 4791 Spring St. and looting Sally Beauty, Play it Again Sports and the Vons supermarket at the La Mesa Springs Shopping Center.
Deputy District Attorney David Vallero alleged that Cooper was one of several people who broke into businesses at the shopping center and took items on the night of May 30.
The prosecutor said Cooper also admitted to burning papers inside the bank, though he claimed they “didn’t catch.” Vallero alleged that several people lit fires inside the bank, which burned to the ground.
“This defendant was engaged in very serious conduct which, probably from his perspective during this night, seemed like a night when there was going to be no laws and no rules,” Vallero alleged.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge John Thompson set Cooper’s bail at $250,000. His next court date is a Nov. 30 readiness conference.
Cooper’s arrest was announced last week by the FBI, along with the arrest of 19-year-old Alexander Jacob King, who is also accused of arson and looting. County jail records show King is no longer in custody, though he’s still expected to face charges.
Protests that took place in La Mesa on May 29 and May 30 were sparked by the Memorial Day in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the controversial arrest of another Black man, Amaurie Johnson, in La Mesa a few days prior to the protest. Johnson’s rough arrest by a white La Mesa police officer 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.
The May 30 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.
The Chase bank was set on fire, along with another bank and the Randall Lamb and Associates building on Palm Avenue.