CHICAGO -- A Chicago man who posted online to urge others to join massive crowds that were looting downtown businesses in the summer of 2020 was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison Tuesday.
James Massey, 23, pleaded guilty in February to inciting and participating in a riot. He admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he posted multiple videos and messages on Facebook calling for people to travel to downtown Chicago to engage in property damage and looting.
Massey was later captured on surveillance video helping to loot and destroy four businesses, including a cellphone store and a marijuana dispensary, the Chicago Tribune reported.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly rejected a defense request for probation, saying Massey hurt legitimate protesters calling attention to the issue of police misconduct after high-profile incidents including the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.
Massey has been in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center since August 2021 when he was arrested while trying to illegally purchase a handgun at an Indiana gun store while free on bond. With good behavior, he would eligible for release in about five months.
Massey apologized to the court, saying the kind of behavior he engaged in that night was behind him.
Massey was arrested after an investigation revealed that he posted a series of sometimes profane messages and videos on Facebook on Aug. 9, 2020, in which he urged people to take part in the widespread violence that erupted in the city that day and the next.
After police shot a man who had opened fire on officers on the city’s South Side, Police Superintendent David Brown said there was a social media post urging people to form a car caravan and converge on the business and shopping district. Further ratcheting up the tensions in the city was a video that circulated on Facebook falsely claiming that Chicago police had fatally shot a teenager.
Massey told others that the looting would start at 12 a.m. and that they should “Bring YA TOOLS SKI MASKS AND GLOVES.”
Prosecutors say Massey said in a video posted later: “I ain’t missing out. I am ready to steal.”
After sending other messages, such as “WE LIE TOGETHER WE DIE TOGETHER,” prosecutors said in the complaint that Massey is seen on surveillance video walking to a store with a tire iron in his hand while another person smashed the store window. They alleged he entered a store, grabbed some coats then took part in vandalizing a convenience store and a cellphone store.
During the rioting, vandals smashed windows of dozens of businesses and made off with clothing, cash machines and anything else they could carry. Two people were shot and more than a dozen police officers were injured in the rioting that ended with more than 100 arrests.