A U.S. District judge sentenced the last of four men who have pleaded guilty to torching a Minneapolis police station last summer to two years and three months in federal prison and ordered him to help pay $12 million in restitution for the damage.
In court Monday morning, Judge Patrick Schiltz called Bryce Michael Williams a "good person who made a terrible mistake," which is why he rendered a prison term lower than prescribed by federal sentencing guidelines for the 27-year-old father and former college basketball player. But Schiltz rejected Williams' request for probation, describing him as a leader — "not a follower" — in the violent mob that torched the south Minneapolis Third Precinct police station during riots that engulfed the city after the murder of George Floyd.
Williams, of Staples, was one of more than a thousand people who gathered outside the precinct on May 28, 2020. As the crowd chanted "burn it down," dozens tore down the fence around police headquarters. Williams entered the building and lit a Molotov cocktail, which Davon De-Andre Turner used to ignite a fire. Williams then threw a box on top of a fire near the entrance of the precinct.
He published videos of himself and others rioting to his TikTok account, which gained more than 150,000 followers.
A federal grand jury indicted Williams, Turner, Dylan Shakespeare Robinson and Branden Michael Wolfe together on one count each of conspiracy to commit arson. All four men have since pleaded guilty. Schiltz sentenced Turner to three years in prison, Robinson to four years and Wolfe to three years and five months. All four must help pay restitution.
Williams is a biracial man who grew up in predominantly white Twin Cities suburbs. He attended college on a basketball scholarship and became the first in his family to graduate, just before Floyd's killing. Earlier this year, he told the Star Tribune, "George Floyd helped me figure out who I am, 100%."
In court Monday, Williams said he felt ashamed of his behavior during the riots and he'll never forget "the pain and agony" he caused. Since he's been charged, he's held down steady jobs, including working security; stopped drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana; and focused on his faith and being a good father, he said.
"Please have mercy on me while you sentence me," he asked the judge.
A former Minneapolis police officer, who was not identified by name, told the court of the damage Williams caused when he helped set the precinct on fire.
During the riots, she sent photos of herself to her family at the beginning and end of every shift to let them know she survived, she said. Afterward, the veteran officer of 37 years joined "almost 300" who have quit since the riots, she said. "There's so much we lost that was more than bricks and mortar."
Schiltz said Williams was unlike most defendants he's seen in his time on the bench. Williams has "done everything right" since being arrested, including becoming the first of the four to plead guilty. Schiltz also said it was "easy to understand" why Floyd's death affected Williams.
But Schiltz said Williams' role in the violence warranted prison time, and that Williams had no idea how many people may have been in the building, including good police officers and those who didn't work in law enforcement, when he recklessly lit it on fire.
The judge said he would recommend Williams be placed in the federal facility in Duluth, where he could be close to his family. Williams must surrender to authorities on July 13.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036