A young man pours lighter fluid on a flaming pile of propane tanks at the intersection of North Ave. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Baltimore, MD on Monday, April 27, 2015. Violence broke out after the funeral of Freddie Gray who died from spinal injuries on April 19, about a week after he was arrested and taken into custody by Baltimore police. (CREDIT: ATF)
A 19-year-old Baltimore man has been charged with arson, civil disobedience and other criminal counts, federal officials announced this week, becoming the third person charged for arson committed during the city’s April uprising.
Public and private surveillance footage resulted in the charging of Donta Betts on attempted arson of a police cruiser, civil disorder and unlawful making of a destructive device, officials said. The criminal complaint was filed on Oct. 6 and unsealed Oct. 13.
“The rule of law must be upheld, and criminals who destroy property and jeopardize lives must be held accountable,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. “Recordings from public and private surveillance cameras allow police and prosecutors to identify suspects and prosecute them even when immediate arrests are not possible.”
On April 27, unrest erupted in Baltimore following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Sandtown resident who died after being arrested by police on April 12.
At 4:49 p.m. on April 27, according to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Baltimore CitiWatch surveillance footage captured an individual igniting flammable material in the fuel tank of a Baltimore Police cruiser. That person was later identified by police as Donta Betts.
About an hour later, another CitiWatch camera and still photos taken by the media allegedly captured Betts creating a makeshift incendiary explosive—comprising propane cylinders, charcoal briquettes, ignited toilet paper rolls and lighter fluid—near the entrance of a CVS Pharmacy on the 2500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Betts reportedly ran away. Then, just under 10 minutes later, the affidavit alleges, the improvised incendiary device exploded approximately 40 feet in front of a Baltimore Police riot line, producing a massive fireball and large pieces of metal debris.
Other surveillance footage allegedly showed Betts looting the ransacked CVS, throwing rocks at police and attempting to tip over MTA vehicles.
“These violent acts endangered the safety of dozens of officers and citizens in the area that day,” said Special Agent in Charge William P. McMullan, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Baltimore Field Division. “ATF is committed to making sure that the perpetrators of these acts are held responsible and we will continue to investigate anyone who threatens the well-being of our community.”
Betts was already in custody on unrelated state charges, and is expected to make his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Oct. 23.
The 19-year-old faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, and a maximum of 20 years in prison for attempted arson; five years in prison for civil disorder; and 10 years in prison for the unlawful making of a destructive device.
Betts is the third person charged for arson crimes committed during the riots: Darius Raymond Stewart, 21, was charged with malicious destruction of a commercial building for allegedly setting fire to a liquor store on West North Avenue, causing at least one serious injury. Raymon Carter, 24, pleaded guilty to the federal crime of rioting, including the arson of the CVS pharmacy on Pennsylvania Avenue.