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Chicago man gets three years probation after admitting setting fire to police vehicle during 2020 rioting

The sentencing appears to be the first in Chicago’s federal court to directly address the downtown violence that followed the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

A Chicago Police Department SUV burns near State and Lake streets in the Loop on May 30, 2020, as thousands of protesters in Chicago joined national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

A School of the Art Institute student who claims he was overcome by emotion when he set fire to a Chicago police SUV during the May 2020 riots downtown sought mercy from a federal judge who then sentenced him to three years of probation Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman told Jacob Fagundo that he could have hurt or killed someone when he set fire to the police SUV at 30 E. Kinzie St. on May 30, 2020. But the judge agreed the crime appeared to be an aberration in Fagundo’s behavior. He said prison time was unnecessary, but he ordered Fagundo to pay $58,125 to replace the vehicle.

“It’s just a shame that you did this,” Gettleman said.

Fagundo’s virtual sentencing hearing Wednesday appeared to be the first in Chicago’s federal court to directly deal with the violence that erupted downtown following the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Another man accused of setting fire to a Chicago police vehicle during the unrest while wearing a “Joker” mask, Timothy O’Donnell, is set to stand trial Feb. 7.

A third person, James Massey, is also set to stand trial Dec. 6 after federal prosecutors accused him of using Facebook to encourage people to loot and riot downtown and on the Near North Side in August 2020.

Fagundo’s defense attorney, Robert Kerr, filed a court memo earlier this month explaining that Fagundo committed his crime because he was “filled with rage, with passion, and didn’t have time to think twice” after he saw a police officer “split open the head of [a] young girl with whom he was — at that time — peacefully protesting” in Chicago.

Jacob Fagundo
Chicago Police

A similar argument has recently been raised in another case stemming from the rioting. An attorney for Lamar Taylor, one of three people accused in federal court of setting fire to a CTA van on May 30, 2020, recently wrote in a court filing that Taylor had witnessed his brother’s fatal shooting by Chicago police in 2014, and that could have prompted his alleged behavior.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cooke argued during Wednesday’s hearing that Fagundo committed his crime when “the city of Chicago was in turmoil and the police were trying to maintain order.” In many instances, he said, police officers were “under attack.” He said Fagundo “contributed to the breakdown” of order in the city.

“Mr. Fagundo’s not responsible for that breakdown,” Cooke said. “There were a lot of people doing a lot of bad things that day. But he is responsible for his role in it.”

The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence Fagundo to between eight and 14 months in prison. However, he acknowledged that Fagundo surrendered to Chicago police when he realized he was wanted by authorities. And, during a two-hour discussion with Fagundo and his lawyer, Cooke said he “found Mr. Fagundo to be genuinely remorseful.”

Originally charged in state court, Fagundo pleaded guilty in April to obstructing law enforcement amid a civil disorder after the feds filed charges against him in late March.

Fagundo admitted in his plea agreement that he purchased fireworks, lighter fluid and other products at a department store on May 29, 2020, ahead of the Floyd protests. The next day, he joined with others and spray-painted a Chicago police vehicle, it said.

The evening of May 30, 2020, Fagundo discovered the CPD SUV in a garage at 30 E. Kinzie St., according to the plea deal. People shattered its windows, including its rear windshield. Then, at about 6:45 p.m., Fagundo lit a firework and tossed it through the SUV’s rear window frame, the document states. The vehicle was a total loss.