LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who a witness said was angry about the killing of a black man by police in Missouri pleaded no contest Monday to igniting a huge inferno in downtown Los Angeles that destroyed a block of apartments under construction.
Dawud Abdulwali, 58, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after entering the plea to one count of arson of a structure and acknowledging allegations of using an accelerant and causing millions of dollars in damage.
Deputy District Attorney Joy Roberts said the plea was negotiated.
The December 2014 blaze gutted the seven-story Da Vinci apartment complex, which was in the wood-framing stage of construction. The fire also blew out windows and set off fire sprinklers in adjacent towers.
Traffic came to a halt on a nearby freeway as flames and searing heat blew across lanes.
Visible for miles, the fire looked as if a volcano had erupted among downtown high-rises. Cinders rained down on the area.
Damage, which included buildings housing city and county departments as well as a major law firm, was estimated at $100 million.
Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas praised the lengthy prison sentence for "a man who set one of the most expensive and destructive building fires in the city's history."
During a preliminary hearing last year, a witness testified that a week Abdulwali a week after the fire attended a party and bragged that he set it because he was angry about the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2016.
Popaul Tshimanga said Abdulwali ranted about Brown's death.
"He was mad," Tshimanga said, adding that Abdulwali said "he burned the building" near a freeway and "didn't like the way the cops were killing black people."
Investigators from the city fire department's arson team and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sifted through 75,000 square feet (6,970 square meters) of debris.
Six months later they arrested Abdulwali, a taxi driver living in a rented room in South Los Angeles.
The Da Vinci complex was rebuilt.