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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

San Diego man charged with possessing 'Molotov cocktails' during La Mesa protest

Zachary Alexander Karas of San Diego is accused of possessing incendiary devices and fireworks when he was arrested for not dispersing from an unlawful assembly.
Credit: KFMB

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A man has been charged with possessing incendiary devices known as "Molotov cocktails" during the La Mesa protest that started May 30 and was followed by looting and riots in the morning hours of May 31, according to U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer's office. 

According to the complaint, 28-year-old Zachary Alexander Karas of San Diego and his girlfriend were sitting in front of trolley tracks located at the corner of Allison Avenue and Spring Street at 2 a.m. when police officers were asking the crowd to disperse for an unlawful assembly. 

The orders were reportedly given once fires had been set and buildings and property were being damaged. The acts of violence and vandalism followed several hours of protest earlier in the day. 

RELATED: La Mesa officials release detailed timeline of events regarding May 30 protests

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Authorities said Karas failed to leave the area and was subsequently arrested. In his possession, officers found two glass bottles with wicks that contained gasoline and fireworks. 

In an interview with law enforcement, Karas allegedly said "he brought the Molotov cocktails to the protest at the police station because he intended to use the Molotov cocktails to set fires, but ultimately did not cause any fires." 

Fires were set at the Chase and Union Bank branches and Randall Lamb Associates building near the site of the protest, but the complaint does not allege Karas set any of the fires sparked following the protest.

“The Constitution strongly protects the First Amendment right of all to speak out and peacefully protest,” said Brewer. “My office is committed to protecting that First Amendment right. Violence, however, by a relatively small number of opportunists who sought to wreak havoc, destroy property, and threaten the safety of peaceful protestors will not be tolerated.”

An agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives inspected the bottles and found them to be "functioning incendiary devices." 

“The San Diego community has the right to be safe from violence and criminal activity while engaging in lawful protests,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Omer Meisel. “The possession of an incendiary device threatened the safety of the community."