URBANA, Ill.–U.S. Marshals Service deputies arrested a Champaign, Ill., man, Shamar N. Betts, 19, early this morning in Tchula, Miss., on a state burglary warrant issued by Champaign county. Betts has also been charged in a federal criminal complaint with using the internet to incite rioting in Champaign, Ill., on May 31 to June 1, 2020. Betts will make his initial appearance in federal court in the Southern District of Mississippi, in Jackson, on a date to be determined by the court.
“The defendant, as alleged, used the peaceful demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, as cover to plan and carry out criminal activity,” said U.S. Attorney John Milhiser. “He incited riots and damage to businesses, and as a result of good police work by the Champaign Police Department and coordination with the FBI, he will be held accountable for his actions.”
“Champaign Police is committed to supporting and protecting lawful and peaceful protests, but rioting, looting and criminal activity that puts residents, visitors and businesses at risk will not be tolerated,” said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb. “On behalf of the entire Champaign Police Department, I’d like to thank all of the law enforcement agencies who have supported us, both during the rioting and with the investigation that followed, so those responsible may be brought to justice.”
“As afforded under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution it is the right of all Americans to gather and peacefully protest. However, when any individual commits acts of violence in our communities under the guise of a protest, that type of activity is not a protected expression,” said Sean M. Cox, FBI Special Agent in Charge, Springfield Division. “The FBI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure those rights and our communities are protected. I want to commend and thank the Champaign Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with whom we have worked in this instance, to hold this individual accountable for his alleged actions.”
According to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, on May 31, 2020, Champaign police officers observed a Facebook post made by Shamar Betts at 10:31 a.m. The post included the statement, “We gotta put Champaign/Urbana on the map – expletive – gone hear and fear us too. Slide let’s get busy Justice for George – expletive.” The post was accompanied by a flyer of a stock image of a burning vehicle overlaid with a date and time, “Riot @ MarketPlace Mall” 3:00 p.m., and listed items to bring, including “friends, family, posters, bricks, bookbags, etc.” The flyer also said “After the mall we hitting the whole PROSPECT & NEIL.”
Champaign Police Department officers responded to the area at approximately 2:36 p.m., when a group of approximately 50 to 75 people were reported to be gathering at the mall. The group continued to grow in size, and at approximately 3:12 p.m., the group began breaking out windows at businesses located in the mall and looting merchandise from within.
The indictment alleges that during this time period, Facebook user Shamar Betts posted a Facebook Live video in which he repeatedly states, “Look what a … just started…” and “We out here…”
Additional law enforcement resources were deployed to the Market Place Mall to respond to the riot and attempt to control the group, which continued to grow in size and began vandalizing and / or looting other businesses in the area including Gordman’s, Kohls and TJ Maxx. The group then moved to the shopping portion of N. Prospect Ave., and continued vandalizing and / or looting numerous stores including Meijer (grocery store), Best Buy, Shoe Carnival and Walmart. This activity continued throughout the night and into the early morning hours of June 1, 2020. By the end of the night, approximately 50 businesses in the area had been vandalized and / or looted.
According to the complaint affidavit, Champaign Police Department investigators subsequently identified Betts as the same individual who allegedly made the Facebook posts and appeared in video footage of the riot activity that was recorded live and also was available later online.
The Champaign Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Springfield Field Office, are conducting the investigation in coordination with the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Office. Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene L. Miller is representing the government in the prosecution.
If convicted for the offense of inciting a riot, the statutory penalty is up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release following imprisonment.
Members of the public are reminded that a complaint is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.