By Miriam Raftery
Photo, left: Zachary Karas, arrested for possession of incendiary devices
Photo, right by Paul Kruze: Vons truck burning approximately one block from where Karas was arrested
June 9, 2020 (La Mesa) – The U.S. Attorneys Office has charged Zachary Alexander Karas, 28, of San Diego for possessing incendiary devices including Molotov cocktail explosive devices and fireworks In La Mesa during riots that began the night of May 30th. Throughout that night and early in the building, multiple buildings and vehicles were set afire.
According to the complaint filed by U.S Assistant Attorney Andrew Haden, Karas and his girlfriend, Kali Braj Jonkuet, were sitting on the pavent at the corner of Allison Ave. and Spring St. in front of the trolley tracks. Officers ordered the crowd to disperse for an unlawful assembly and arrested Karas after he failed to leave. After his arrest, officers discovered that Karas possessed Molotov cocktails --two glass bottles with wicks that contained gasoline. Molotov cocktails are also known as bottle bombs or poor man’s grenades. Karas also had fireworks in his possession.
A special agent with the ATF inspected the Molotov cocktails and found them to be functioning incendiary devices.
A timeline released today by La Mesa Police Dept. indicates Molotov cocktails were thrown at the La Mesa Police Station during a protest there earlier in the evening. Several vehicles were burned including a Heartland Fire battalion chief’s vehicle and pickup truck and a Vons truck. Spot fires were ignited in several structures including City Hall. Three buildings burned to the ground: Chase Bank, Union Bank, and the Randall Lamb historic building.
Jonkuet, Karas’ girlfriend, has posted a GoFundMe page for his legal defense, claiming he was there as a “peaceful protester.” Her post mentions he was found with fireworks but omits that he also was found in possession of Molotov cocktail incendiary devices.
On his Facebook page, Karas posted after his arrest, “I literally f**ed y whole life up in less than 24 hours." He claims that desite being caught with flammable devices he was "in no way a part of the burning of any structures and was not involved in any looting.”
According to his Facebook page, he graduated from Point Loma High School in 2010 and previously lived in Framingham, Massachusetts.
If convicted, Karas could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“The Constitution strongly protects the First Amendment right of all to speak out and peacefully protest,” said U.S. Attorney Robert 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.”
“ATF partners with its local, state and federal partners to work together to arrest dangerous individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge of Los Angeles Field Division Monique Villegas. “These partnerships are true force multipliers that enable law enforcement to identify, investigate and seek prosecution against individuals who act out violently within our communities.”
“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. The FBI will continue to work closely with our state, local and federal law enforcement partners and prosecutors to protect our citizen’s right to engage in lawful protest from those individuals engaged in violence and criminal activity.”
This Karas case is the result of the ongoing efforts of the Violent Crime and Human Trafficking (VCHT) Section. Formed in 2019, by U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr., the VCHT is tasked with leading collaborations between federal and local law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of certain cases including those involving violent crimes, firearms and gang activities.
Miriam Raftery, ECM Editor and host of ECM's radio show on KNSJ, has won more than 350 journalism awards for national and regional coverage. Her experience covering major protests, disasters and civil unrest includes the Alfred Olango police shooting in El Cajon, anti-war marches in Washington D.C. during the Iraq War, protests over lack of federal resources after Hurricane Katrina, demonstrations by Iraqi-Americans in El Cajon calling on the U.S. to protect Iraqi Chaldean Christians from ISIS terrorists, and two of California's worst wildfires -- the 2003 Cedar Fire and 2007 firestorms in San Diego County.
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting, including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/