Charges filed against man accused of starting liquor store fire during Sherman Park unrest

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Big Jim's Liquor

MILWAUKEE -- A little less than a year after unrest in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood, one man now faces charges of rioting and arson in connection. The riots left millions of dollars in damages.

At Big Jim's Liquor -- located off 22nd and Hopkins -- a lot has changed in less than a year. A new building stands in the spot that became the target of arson in August 2016. Federal prosecutors say Stephen Ruffin and two other men set fire to the north side liquor store in August 2016 -- during the Sherman Park riots. It was one of several buildings set on fire.

Big Jim's Liquor

According to a federal complaint, Ruffin first entered the liquor store in the evening to buy alcohol. Prosecutors say he showed up hours later when the business was closed with two other men. Investigators say surveillance video captured the men using charcoal lighter fluid to set fire to the store.

"It's encouraging to see the arrest, given the fact that these were absolutely criminal acts. There wasn't any excuse for them," said Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn.

According to court documents, Ruffin sent texts saying, "I'm rioting with em" -- and "It's a riot out here."

"Revolutionary fervor does not justify starting an arson fire," said Flynn.

Ed Flynn

Those riots left behind destruction and millions in damages. Now, as structures are rebuilt, so are community bonds.

"The police and the community have done a lot of work in Sherman Park, to repair relationships where they were frayed, to increase understanding and to prepare ourselves for an appropriate response should there be a problem like that in this city this summer," said Flynn.

The liquor store owner tells us before the fire, Ruffin was a regular customer, and there were never any prior problems.

Ruffin is due in court next week.

Big Jim's Liquor