Man wearing Joker mask when he set CPD vehicle on fire during riots in May 2020, gets almost 3 years

The Pilsen man, who set fire to a police car in Chicago while wearing a Joker mask in the middle of the city’s riots in May 2020, has been sentenced to almost three years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood on Wednesday handed down the 34-month sentence to Timothy O’Donnell. Because he’s already been behind bars for two years, the verdict probably leaves O’Donnell with only a few months left to serve.

“He set fire to a car in the middle of a crowd,” Wood said. “He did it in a way that was intended to target law enforcement. He did it in a way that could have caused serious injury or death. Fortunately, it did not.”

O’Donnell’s case is among the most high-profile, the result of the riots and looting that took place here in the wake of George Floyd’s murder of then-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. Its fame is largely due to the jarring images of a man in a clown mask in the middle of the chaos that day.

And even though a prosecutor said otherwise, O’Donnell’s defense attorney insisted that “he paid the price to wear that mask that day.”

Before he was convicted, O’Donnell apologized “to those whose business was left in total ruin” and said he was sorry “if I hurt Chicago’s character in any way.” He said he was ashamed of myself that I got involved in the problem and not part of the solution.

Prosecutors said O’Donnell served as the “poster child” of the day, adding to its chaos “for no other reason than to live out his own fantasies.” They said he recorded footage of the protests on his tablet before setting fire to the CPD vehicle, while at one point casually joking that it was a “beautiful day for a barbecue”.

Federal prosecutor says this image shows Timothy O'Donnell in the Joker mask.

Federal prosecutor says this image shows Timothy O’Donnell in the Joker mask.

U.S. District Court records

But defense attorneys Michael Leonard and Steve Greenberg wrote in a lawsuit that O’Donnell “is completely different from his persona created by his wearing the Joker mask,” which had been a birthday present. They wrote that O’Donnell “is a thoughtful, creative, intellectual and non-violent individual” and that his mother was “a longtime member of law enforcement.”

O’Donnell admitted in a lawsuit in February last year that after approaching the unoccupied CPD vehicle in the 200 block of North State on May 30, 2020, “he used a lighter to ignite a piece of cloth, which he put in the refueling “or vehicle fuel tank. The area around the fuel tank was then ignited and the fire spread to the interior of the vehicle, according to the plea.

But O’Donnell’s defense team seemed to go back in their lawsuit. They wrote that “Mr. O’Donnell failed in his efforts to place a cloth inside the gas tank and set the vehicle on fire. He failed.” Rather, they wrote that the video “clearly demonstrates” that “another person threw an object or accelerator into or against the vehicle, and as a direct result, it went up in flames.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Durkin admitted during Wednesday’s hearing that “there were other people” who made the fire worse. But Durkin said O’Donnell “started it.” And the judge withdrew from the argument during Leonard’s argument.

“He set fire to a gas tank,” Wood said.

Leonard explained that “there were literally dozens of people trying to destroy that car,” but “no one is being punished except Mr. O’Donnell.” He even argued that O’Donnell should not be forced to pay the full $ 58,000 refund due to CPD. The judge did not agree.

Defense attorneys pointed, as expected, to the separate case of Jacob Fagundo, a student from the School of the Art Institute, who admitted to setting fire to another Chicago police force during the riots on May 30, 2020. U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman sentenced Fagundo to three years of probation. Meanwhile, O’Donnell has been in federal custody since June 2020.

O’Donnell’s lawyers wrote that “there is absolutely no basis in principle for anyone to claim” that additional jail time is appropriate for O’Donnell, given Fagundo’s verdict. Wood said that “at the end of the day, every sentencing is an individual decision,” and she noted that Fagundo had no criminal history, unlike O’Donnell.

Leonard said after the hearing that he was “disappointed” in the verdict, but he noted that it was far less than the 46 months that the prosecutor had sought.

Prosecutors charged O’Donnell on June 2, 2020, after investigators tied him to the incident through a “BEAUTIFUL” tattoo seen on the neck of the person wearing the mask. Video provided by a witness showed O’Donnell wearing the mask, holding an lit object and placing it in the gas tank of the CPD vehicle.

A photograph taken by a witness also showed O’Donnell handling the gas tank, according to FB. In another, O’Donnell appeared to be sitting on the ground, wearing the Joker mask while the vehicle burned.

A third photograph apparently showed O’Donnell posing in the Joker mask in front of the burning vehicle. In it, the tattoo that says “PRETTY” can be seen on the neck of the person wearing the mask. A CPD image of O’Donnell revealed the same tattoo.

A family member told police that O’Donnell lived in a room in an apartment in Block 700 in 19th place. Authorities obtained a search warrant and searched the apartment. The Feds say they found a Joker mask in a bedroom.

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