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A West Hills man was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in federal prison for starting a fire that caused substantial damage to a Santa Monica restaurant during the civil disturbances that erupted during the spring of 2020.

Micah Tillmon, 19, was sentenced by United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald. A restitution hearing will be scheduled for a later date. 

Tillmon pleaded guilty in September 2021 to one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device.

On May 31, 2020, Tillmon entered Sake House by Hikari, a Japanese restaurant located in downtown Santa Monica, without authorization and while the business was closed because of the civil unrest occurring in the city at that time. While inside the restaurant, Tillmon possessed and used an incendiary device to ignite a fire that rapidly grew, enveloped the entire restaurant space and spread to other areas of the building adjacent to the restaurant.

According to court documents, security video from the restaurant shows Tillmon removing “a red tube-shaped object from his jacket, which he placed behind the reception desk area of the restaurant before walking away. Within seconds of that action, smoke and fire appeared from the area.”

The Santa Monica Fire Department (SMFD) responded to the fire and extinguished the flames using several fire trucks and numerous personnel. Due to safety concerns that accompanied the city’s civil unrest, SMFD prematurely abandoned the scene. As a result, SMFD needed to return to the scene several times throughout the night to extinguish additional flare-ups. The restaurant has since permanently closed.

Tillmon was identified by detectives with the Santa Monica Police Department, who reviewed numerous security videos and social media posts. Tillmon was also linked to the fire when investigators uncovered a video showing his white Ford Explorer parking next to the Sake House four minutes before the fire started and then reversing across the street soon after the fire started, according to court documents.

Tillmon possessed an incendiary device that had not been registered with the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, the central federal registry for all items regulated under the National Firearms Act.

“[Tillmon’s] actions on May 31, 2020, were only possible because of a complete breakdown in social order,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Riots like the ones that convulsed this district in the summer of 2020 are a stark reminder of the thin line that separates state control and anarchy.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Santa Monica Police Department investigated this matter.

Assistant United States Attorney Shawn T. Andrews of the Violent and Organized Crime Section prosecuted this case.

Submitted by Ciaran McEvoy, DOJ Public Information Officer