A South Jersey man admitted in federal court Tuesday that he tried to set fire to a police cruiser during a video-recorded riot that broke out following a peaceful protest last spring in Trenton.
Killian F. Melecio, 20, of Columbus told a U.S. District Court Judge in Trenton via videoconference that he stuffed a shirt he’d gotten from another man into the gas tank of the vehicle and tried to ignite it last May 31.
The protest earlier that day in response to the death of George Floyd had been peaceful, authorities said. Violence later erupted as a mob spread down East State Street, smashing windows, looting stores and attacking city police vehicles.
A man identified as Kadeem A. Dockery of Trenton was seen in video footage lighting a makeshift Molotov cocktail and throwing it through the open front driver’s side window of a Trenton Police Department vehicle, federal authorities said.
Dockery then “removed his shirt and handed it to Melecio, who attempted to stuff the shirt in the gas tank of the police vehicle and ignite it,” Acting U.S. Attorney Rachel Honig said.
Melecio fled and Dockery “lit another explosive device and threw it over the Trenton police vehicle at the arresting officers,” she said, adding that it “exploded at their feet.”
A third man, identified as Justin Spry, was arrested at the scene.
Investigators identified Melecio, of Burlington County, and Dockery “through their distinctive tattoos seen on the video footage,” the U.S. attorney said.
They were arrested on Aug. 5, she said.
An FBI complaint on file in U.S. District Court in Trenton charges both men with “attempting to damage or destroy by fire a vehicle owned or possessed by an institution receiving federal financial assistance” and “attempting to damage or destroy by fire a vehicle used in and affecting interstate commerce.”
Melecio took a deal from the government rather than go to trial, pleading guilty to attempting to interfere with law enforcement officers during a civil order.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian R. Martinotti scheduled sentencing for May 26, 2021.
Federal charges against Dockery and Spry are still pending.
Honig credited special agents of the FBI and task force officers of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Newark with the investigation leading to the charges.
She also thanked Trenton police, New Jersey State Police and officers with the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
Handling the case for the government are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexander E. Ramey and Michelle S. Gasparian of Honig’s Criminal Division in Trenton.
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