Milwaukee, WI – A man accused of plotting to firebomb a Milwaukee police station during the 2016 Sherman Park riots pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday.
Vaun Mayes, 31, has been charged with attempted arson, illegal possession of a firearm, and possession of a destructive device, WITI reported.
The possession of a destructive device charge carries a minimum 30-year sentence.
Mayes was accused of having recruited teenagers that he mentored through a parks program to assist in his plan to attack Milwaukee Police District 7 during the three days of violent riots that followed the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith on Aug. 13, 2016.
The Milwaukee Fire Department estimated that $5.8 million in damage was done to seven businesses in Sherman Park during the riots, WITI reported.
Prosecutors said Mayes had planned to have the kids throw rocks to distract the officers while Mayes firebombed the police station with Molotov cocktails.
However, the plot to attack the police station was called off, and police found 10 unused Molotov cocktails in a trash bin later, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Police were on high alert at the time because of the riots and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Ladwig told U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin that a "a very tragic confrontation" would have resulted had Mayes gone through with his plan to firebomb the police district, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Ladwig asked the judge to detain Mayes during his July 5 hearing, but Duffin denied the federal prosecutor’s request.
Then Ladwig asked for a 24-hour stay of Duffin’s ruling while they appealed to a district court judge, but Duffin declined the request and told prosecutors they had enough time to appeal while Mayes was processed for release, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Mayes was released the next day.
The prosecution’s argument for holding Mayes was the violent nature of his alleged crimes and allegations that he had been trying to intimidate witnesses.
According to prosecutors, some of the kids who were mentored by Mayes witnessed the making of the explosive cocktails, according to WITI.
In court, Mayes was accused of trying to intimidate some of the witnesses in his case.
Ladwig said that two cooperating witnesses were approached by two different people in April and June this year, and that the witnesses interpreted those communications as efforts to intimidate them not to testify against Mayes, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Robert LeBell, Mayes' attorney, Robert LeBell, said Mayes asking someone he knows, who was apparently a witness, to call him could hardly be seen as witness intimidation.
LeBell said Mayes has cooperated with investigators throughout the nearly two-year investigation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
As conditions of his release, Duffin restricted Mayes' travel to within the Eastern District of Wisconsin, prohibited him from possessing any firearms, and banned contact with any witnesses.
However, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the judge acknowledged the prohibition against talking to witnesses could be a challenge since they were not identified by name in the criminal complaint.
"He knows who they are, and if he tries to contact them, we'll find out," Ladwig told the judge.
Banning Mayes from having firearms shouldn’t have been necessary as he had been convicted of a felony in 2005, and was therefore already prohibited from owning or possessing any firearms as a felon.
About 75 supporters filled the courtroom for each of Mayes’ two appearances, and prosecutors have expressed concern that it demonstrated Mayes had too much influence in the surrounding community.
His next court day was scheduled for Aug. 2, and although no trial date has yet been announced, the trial must begin before Sept. 18.