The Real Deal Los Angeles

The plot thickens in the Da Vinci apartment arson case

Witnesses say suspect accused of burning down Geoff Palmer's building was angry at police shootings of African Americans

May 11, 2016 01:27PM

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Da Vinci apartment fire in December 2014 (credit: indybay.org)

Da Vinci apartment fire in December 2014 (credit: indybay.org)

A preliminary hearing in the arson case against the man accused of burning down developer Geoffrey Palmer’s under-construction Da Vinci apartment complex began this week. Unexpectedly, witness testimony involved racial tensions in America rather than personal vitriol against the developer.

One witness said that the suspect, Dawud Abdulwali, had bragged about the downtown L.A. fire and voiced anger about police shootings of African Americans, including Michael Brown, at a hotel party one week after the December 2014 blaze.

Many critics of Palmer disliked his Da Vinci project because of its massive size and Mediterranean-style facade. But by focusing on Abdulwali’s racial frustrations voiced at the party, prosecutors may be suggesting that Abdulwali’s intent was hardly one of aesthetic purity.

“He was mad,” witness Popaul Tshimanga said, adding that Abdulwali said he “burned the building” near the 110 Freeway, according to the L.A. Times. “He didn’t like the way the cops were killing black people.”

The main pieces of evidence brought by the prosecution against Abdulwali include a surveillance video from a bank across the street from Palmer’s complex, which shows what appears to be Abdulwali’s unlicensed taxi cab. Prosecutors are also using the recorded testimony of another witness, Edwyn Gomez, Abdulwali’s former roommate.

“Cops kill my people,” Gomez said, quoting Abdulwali, in the recording. “We should go do this, we should go burn some [expletive] down…. We should go break some windows.”

However, at the hearing on Tuesday Gomez said he had no idea police had recorded that conversation, and seemed distraught that it was being used as testimony, according to the Times.

Abdulwali, charged with aggravated arson and arson of a structure, has pleaded not guilty.

The fire caused $100 million in damages. Last August, construction resumed for the aesthetically controversial apartment complex. [LAT]Cathaleen Chen