Man busted for fiery cocktail; suspected looter arrested

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A man was charged June 8 in federal court with possessing incendiary devices during a protest in La Mesa that turned violent on May 30.

Zachary Alexander Karas, 28, is not charged with arson or setting any fires during the riot following a protest about police brutality. He is only charged with possessing Molotov cocktails, but not using them.

Karas was described in court documents as sitting on the pavement with his girlfriend at 2 a.m. at the corner of Allison Avenue and Spring Street as part of the protest. He was arrested after police declared an unlawful assembly.

La Mesa police found he was in possession of two glass bottles with wicks that contained gasoline along with fireworks. The felony charges described them as destructive devices and an agent described them as “functioning incendiary devices.”

Karas’ girlfriend, Kali Jonquet, who is not charged, formed a GoFundMe request for Karas to seek funds for an attorney.

“I’ve messed up pretty good this time,” wrote Karas on his Facebook page. “Most of you know me personally and know my character.”

“I’m not a violent person and although I was caught with flammable devices (I) was in no way a part of the burning of any structures and was not involved in any looting,” wrote Karas.

“Any and all support I can get at this time will be greatly appreciated,” wrote Karas.

“He is facing years of jail time over nothing!” wrote his girlfriend. “This is not what peaceful protesters deserve.”

Karas was re-arrested June 8 and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Butcher, who set bail at $20,000. He pleaded not guilty and will return to court July 2.

“The Constitution strongly protects the First Amendment right of all to speak out and peacefully protest,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer in a release about Karas’ charges.

“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,” said Brewer.

“The possession of an incendiary device threatened the safety of the community,” said FBI Acting special agent Omer Meisel.

Karas remains in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

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Helen Tewolde, 26, of San Diego, was arrested June 10 on suspicion of looting Sally’s Beauty Supply in La Mesa during the rioting on May 30.

She is accused of committing burglary during a state of emergency. The store was among those looted at 8011 University Avenue.  She has posted bond, but has not been arraigned yet.

Rey Estrada Silva, 25, of La Mesa, was re-arrested June 11 by La Mesa Police after being suspected of looting the Verizon store and Target at the Grossmont Shopping Center in La Mesa on May 30.

Silva was previously arrested June 1 on a charge of looting the Play It Again Sports store at 8011 University Avenue.  He has been released on bond.

Authorities have been reviewing security camera footage during the riot as well as social media footage.

    •••

A Dec. 1 trial date was set June 11 for Dustin Steven Sniff, 39, a former teacher at Christian High School in El Cajon, who is accused of molesting two girls there.

Sniff is also charged with oral copulation and rape of four other victims involving a website.  He has pleaded not guilty.

Sniff appeared on a video screen before El Cajon Superior Court Judge Daniel Lamborn. The prosecutor and defense attorney also appeared on video.

“We do wish a full jury trial with live jury members,” said Sniff’s attorney, Gretchen von Helms.

Jury trials have been suspended since March as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. It is hoped that jury trials will start back up later this summer.

Sniff waived his right to a speedy trial. He remains in the George Bailey Detention Facility on $1 million bail.

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