L.A. man pleads guilty to federal charge for setting restaurant fire during 2020 unrest

Santa Monica restaurant burns
A man stands in front of Sake House by Hikari, a Santa Monica restaurant, as it burned on May 31, 2020. Federal authorities announced that a San Fernando Valley man, not pictured above, pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered destructive device that caused the fire.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A San Fernando Valley man on Thursday admitted he set a Santa Monica restaurant on fire during a period of social unrest last year and pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge stemming from the incident.

Micah Tillmon, 20, of West Hills entered the plea to one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.

According to his plea agreement filed in court, Tillmon went inside Sake House by Hikari, a popular Japanese restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, on May 31, 2020.

The downtown Santa Monica restaurant and other businesses in the area had closed for the day in anticipation that looters and vandals would use protests over a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd as cover to wreak havoc.

In chaotic scenes broadcast live on television and over social media, police fired on protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas as looters broke into businesses.

“While inside the restaurant, Tillmon possessed and used an incendiary device to ignite a fire that rapidly grew, enveloped the entire restaurant space and spread to other areas of the building adjacent to the restaurant,” prosecutors said.

Security video from the restaurant showed Tillmon take “a red tube-shaped object from his jacket,” and put it behind a reception desk before walking away, according to law enforcement records filed in the case. Fire erupted within seconds.

Carel Ale, an attorney from the federal public defender’s office who represented Tillmon, declined to comment.


Santa Monica firefighters responded to the scene, but they left before fully extinguishing the fire because of “safety concerns that accompanied the city’s civil unrest,” prosecutors wrote.

“As a result, [they] needed to return to the scene several times throughout the night to extinguish additional flare-ups. The restaurant has since permanently closed,” prosecutors added.

Santa Monica police detectives identified Tillmon as the suspect after reviewing security videos and social media posts, prosecutors said.

A video showing Tillmon’s white Ford Explorer parked next to the restaurant and then leaving soon after flames broke out helped link him to the crime, they said.

Tillmon is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6 by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald. He faces up to 10 years in prison.