Community activist accused of attempting to firebomb MPD station during Sherman Park unrest

MILWAUKEE -- Van Mayes (aka Vaun Mayes) is federally charged with the attempted fire bombing of Milwaukee Police Department's District 7 during the Sherman Park unrest Aug. 13 and 14, 2016. Officials say the weapons in this case were Molotov cocktails.

Mayes, 31, is a community activist in Milwaukee. He was arrested on July 2. An ATF camera was there as he was placed in handcuffs after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He's the third person arrested who's allegedly directly related to the Sherman Park unrest investigation.

Vaun Mayes

Vaun Mayes' arrest

Joel Lee

"It's an exhaustive investigation. They are very serious charges. Violence and violent acts are not a means to an end in Milwaukee. Those acts won't be tolerated. We want to have a complete story of what happened and a complete picture of what happened. To do that, we still need the public's help," said Joel Lee, assistant special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Mayes faces three federal charges -- attempted arsons, possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence. FOX6 was there as he made his initial appearance in federal court Monday afternoon.

The complaint alleges that Mayes and others planned to firebomb the Milwaukee Police Department’s District Seven police station during the Sherman Park rioting in August 2016.

Milwaukee Police Department’s District Seven police station

Milwaukee Police Department’s District Seven police station

According to the complaint, Mayes and others pursued the plan by manufacturing Molotov cocktails in glass bottles that contained gasoline with a fabric wick inserted into the opening. The firebombing ultimately did not occur.

PHOTO GALLERY

The federal criminal complaint notes that on Aug. 13 and 14, 2016, there was widespread arson, rioting and looting in the area surrounding Sherman Park, which was, in part, a response to the officer-involved shooting of Sylville Smith by former MPD Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, which happened near 44th and Auer.

Dominique Heaggan-Brown, Sylville Smith

The complaint says an investigation revealed "several individuals, including Mayes, conspired and attempted to use Molotov cocktails to firebomb" MPD's District 7 near 36th and Fond du Lac.

On Aug. 23, ATF officials learned of Molotov cocktails located in a dumpster on Sherman Boulevard, and inside the dumpster, investigators found a cardboard box containing 10 glass bottles filled with gasoline, with a dark-colored wick in the openings -- identified as Molotov cocktails.

Mayes was developed as a person of interest, and the complaint says a search warrant was executed at his home -- where officials found Seagram's Escape Wine Cooler and Everfresh Juice bottles, matching those found in the dumpster.

On Aug. 30, another search warrant was executed at an apartment on Sherman Boulevard, and officials found evidence of Molotov cocktails, including fabric consistent with that found in the cocktails, empty gas cans and Mike's Hard Lemonade bottles and Seagram's Escape and Mistic Juice bottle caps -- consistent with the types of bottles used to construct the cocktails.

Sketch by Jeff Darrow

Mayes was informed on Sept. 20 that the bottles that came from his home may have been used to manufacture Molotov cocktails. The complaint says he indicated "his DNA would be on them," and he indicated he drank from Everfresh Juice and Seagram's Escape bottles.

The complaint notes that information was developed by investigators that Mayes was coordinator of "Program the Parks" -- an organization focused on mentoring for Sherman Park teenagers.

According to the complaint, after the rioting, on Aug. 15, Mayes and others met near the burned BP gas station in Sherman Park "and discussed firebombing the police station" near 36th and Fond du Lac. They agreed to meet at an apartment on Sherman Boulevard "to further the plan." The complaint says Mayes brought gas cans and glass bottles to the location and Mayes and others "began to manufacture the Molotov cocktails." An individual told investigators "a black coat was ripped and used for the wicks." The cocktails were placed in a cardboard box, and the individual said Sherman Park teenagers were being organized and told about the plan to firebomb the police station. It never happened, the complaint says, because one person involved "thought too many people knew of the plan."

Vaun Mayes

The complaint says in February of 2017, the winter after the unrest, there was a group of adults and teens on Sherman Boulevard and a person was asked "whether he would throw rocks at police so others could firebomb the police station with the cocktails." The adults "voted not to firebomb that police station that night." One of the individuals present said they saw rocks and the cocktails placed into a vehicle.

Also in February, during a meeting to discuss some of the events that followed the fires on Aug. 15, one person told another that police recovered Molotov cocktails and gas cans from Sherman Boulevard, and it was said that "they covered up the gas cans by saying they were used for a generator."

According to the complaint, in November of 2016, three months after the unrest, an individual said after the shooting of Sylville Smith, they heard Mayes say that Smith "needs justice." During the gathering on Aug. 15 at Sherman Park, this person said they saw Mayes sitting next to a black fabric bag filled with rocks, with empty bottles sitting next to him. The individuals said Mayes was wearing gloves and filling the bottles with gasoline, dripping ripped shirts into a bowl of gasoline and placing the soaked fabric into the tops of the bottles, as adults "discussed a plan to firebomb the MPD district police station." The individuals said a group drove by the police station and saw police on the roof. They then went back to Sherman Bouldvard and "told the others that police were ready for them," but due to the heavy police presence, "they decided against attacking the police station that night."

The complaint says some of the youth who participated in Mayes' Program the Parks were present for the cocktail manufacturing and were asked to throw rocks at police.

Investigators found "several videos" recorded by Mayes during the rioting on Aug. 13 and 14 in Mayes' home, the complaint says.

In one, the complaint says Mayes is heard saying: "Where the rocks at? Who got the rocks? (Expletive) you all, punk (expletive) cops. Getting they (expletive) rocked."

In another, the complaint says Mayes had his face covered with a mask and was heard saying "they killing their (expletive) with these (expletive) rocks. Rocking their (expletive). (Expletive) going down."

In a third video, the complaint says Mayes recorded a group of individuals damaging a police squad during the rioting.

ATF agents also viewed videos posted to Mayes' Facebook account. In one, prosecutors say Mayes can be seen walking near Fond du Lac and Burleigh, and he stated that the Milwaukee rioting "turned into Baltimore. It turned into Ferguson, and it was necessary." He is also heard describing the MPD station at 36th and Fond du Lac as "one of the worst police departments."

The next day, on Aug. 15, the complaint says Mayes posted a collage of photos to his Facebook page of Heaggan-Brown, with this statement: "Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown killed #SylvilleSmith. Y'all know what to do. Let's get this out!!! (Expletive) #FTP," an acronym for (expletive) the police."

That same day, the complaint says Mayes sent his sister a private message saying "fa sho, (expletive) about to get real tonight. Just so u know."

Later that night, the complaint says he posted video to Facebook in which he announced to people walking near Sherman Park "it's about to get real. Y'all are leaving. Y'all ain't going to see how real it's going to get."

Prosecutors say Mayes' cellphone was located in the area where the Molotov cocktails were being manufactured when that was happening.

The complaint notes that Mayes is prohibited from possessing firearms because he has a felony conviction out of Milwaukee County from 2005 for driving or operating a vehicle without consent.

Mayes has a detention hearing set for Thursday afternoon, July 5. We're told he's being held at the Kenosha County Jail.