MADISON, Wis. — Federal prosecutors have charged a teen mentor of attempting to firebomb a police station during riots in Milwaukee two summers ago.
Prosecutors filed a complaint Wednesday charging 31-year-old Van Mayes with attempted arson, possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence. U.S. Attorney Matthew Krueger said in a news release that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is still pursuing multiple investigations related to the riots.
"We're hoping this arrest will bring us one step closer in holding individuals responsible for the violence and disorder back in 2016," Krueger said. "The citizens and business community of Milwaukee deserve the peace of mind."
Online court records indicate Mayes was in U.S. marshals' custody and was due to appear in court for a detention hearing Thursday. Federal public defender Anderson Gansner represented Mayes at an initial court appearance Monday. Gansner declined comment, saying he didn't expect to represent Mayes as the case continued.
The riots began on August 13, 2016, hours after Milwaukee Police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown fatally shot Syville Smith during a foot chase through the Sherman Park neighborhood. Smith was black, as is Heaggan-Brown.
Protesters threw bricks at police and burned down several businesses. Rioting resumed the next night but didn't continue into a third day.
According to the complaint, Mayes was a coordinator of "Program the Park," an organization focused on mentoring Sherman Park teenagers.
An unidentified informant said Mayes and others met by a burned-out Sherman Park gas station on Aug. 15 and discussed firebombing the neighborhood police station. The group agreed to meet at an apartment to plan the attack. Mayes brought gas cans and glass bottles to the apartment and he and others began assembling Molotov cocktails, the informant said.
The informant saw someone identified only as B.H. organizing Sherman Park teenagers to help with the attack. Another unidentified informant heard Mayes say that Smith needed justice.
The group ultimately decided not to attack that night after scouts reported that officers were on the station's roof and were ready for them. ATF agents learned that Mayes mentored some of the teens who were present during the firebombs' construction.
In a video Mayes posted on Facebook on the second night of the riots he can be heard saying that unrest was necessary and the Sherman Park police station was one of the city's worst. He also sent a Facebook message to his sister on Aug. 15 warning her that things were about "to get real tonight."
Then Police-Chief Edward Flynn fired Heaggan-Brown in October 2016 after the officer was charged with unrelated sex crimes. He was sentenced to three years in prison in February.
A jury acquitted Heaggan-Brown of any criminal wrongdoing in Smith's death in June 2017.