Nashville police arrest City Hall arson suspect

Tennessee city on curfew after violent protests

Nashville police have arrested a suspect in connection with arson at the building that houses the Metro Courthouse and City Hall, the police department announced Sunday night in Tennessee.

Wesley Somers, 25, was charged with felony arson, vandalism and disorderly conduct for allegedly setting fire to Nashville’s Historic Courthouse on Saturday night.

Somers was arrested by Specialized Investigations Division detectives and SWAT officers.

Officers in Nashville dispersed crowds in downtown late Saturday with tear gas after the building that houses the Metro Courthouse and City Hall was set on fire.

About 30 businesses and buildings were damaged late Saturday and overnight by demonstrators, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced a curfew that started at 8 p.m. Sunday, reporter Allan Bell said.

Police reported at least 28 arrests, including one person from Texas.

Witnesses reported seeing the first floor of the historic building filled with flames about 8:15 p.m. CDT, according to The Tennessean. It was the boiling point for the city in a night of protest that saw several buildings vandalized, police cars destroyed and chaos stream through the community's downtown.

»MORE: Who was George Floyd?

The Metro Nashville Police Department released several statements on its Twitter page about the fire at the historic building, which has been a staple in Nashville’s downtown since the mid-1930s.

“MNPD has deployed gas at the Historic Courthouse to protect the building after protestors set it on fire. NFD being escorted to building by officers,” according to a late-night tweet from the department.

Gov. Bill Lee announced he has authorized the National Guard to mobilize in Nashville in response to the protest that had taken a "violent, unlawful turn," he said in a statement Saturday night.

A curfew was put in place for the entire city for 10 p.m. after the destruction.

"Those harming our city should leave," read an MNPD tweet.

Thousands of demonstrators had gathered peacefully earlier Saturday to advocate for justice in the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.

By nightfall, the demonstration had become violent, with windows smashed at the City Hall and the fire emerging afterward.

Several protesters were seen leaving the area near City Hall once the tear gas was deployed, but there’s no word on who ignited the fire there.

Earlier Saturday, protesters reportedly toppled the downtown statue of Edward Carmack, an early 20th-century newspaper publisher, that formerly sat in front of the Tennessee State Capitol. There were also reports of several of the city’s popular Broadway bars being defaced and windows being broken out of several businesses.

In the moments leading up to curfew, Nashville police warned that anyone still roaming the streets near Broadway would be subject to an arrest.

Nashville was just one of the dozens of cities where ravaging demonstrations were reported Saturday night, just a few days after the death of Floyd. The 46-year-old bouncer died after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin reportedly pinned Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee for several minutes as the handcuffed Floyd begged for air. The Houston native and father later died.

Though Chauvin has been taken into custody and charged with murder, people across the country have banded together at protests to demand final justice in Floyd’s killing and an end to the racial tensions many say have led to a number of officer-involved fatal shootings of black people.

Rich Barak of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.

About the Author