Man pleads no contest to arson in 2014 Los Angeles inferno


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 immediately 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, and 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.

During a preliminary hearing last year, a witness testified that a week after the fire, Abdulwali attended a party and bragged that he set the fire 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 the defendant 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 of debris. Six months later they arrested Abdulwali, a taxi driver who lived in a rented room in South Los Angeles.

The Da Vinci complex was rebuilt.

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