Broken windows and fires on King Street followed the May 2020 protests | Photo by Sam Spence

A Charleston man will spend 18 months in federal prison for his role in King Street violence following May 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd.

Abraham Jenkins, a 26-year-old from Charleston who goes by AJ, pleaded guilty in October 2020 to civil disorders related to violence and destruction along King Street in downtown Charleston, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Jenkins is the first to be sentenced to federal prison among six charged with federal offenses stemming from the May 2020 events, “including arson, inciting riots, and other civil disorder in Columbia and Charleston on May 30 and 31, 2020,” according to DOJ.

Tearra Na’Asia Guthrie of Charleston also pleaded guilty last year and was previously sentenced to time served, restitution and fees.

The night of May 30, 2020, a group of people took to upper King Street downtown, breaking windows and setting fires following a day of protest marches throughout downtown in which hundreds of people demonstrated against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis a few days earlier.

Over the course of the night, DOJ prosecutors said Jenkins damaged a Mount Pleasant police car, sprayed a fire extinguisher at police officers, threw a water bottle at an officer and threw a burning T-shirt into the broken back window of a Charleston police patrol car.

Last year, Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said he believed offenders from the May 30 events would spend “many years in prison for their actions,” according to ABC News 4.

Today, he remained resolute, with more sentences likely down the road: “More work remains to be accomplished as we continue investigating and prosecuting those violent offenders responsible for the significant destruction of property, assault on our citizens and attack on our officers.”

The Charleston Police Department drew criticism on multiple fronts for its handling of the May 30 violence. A day later, heavily armored police vehicles and law enforcement in riot gear descended on peaceful protesters in Marion Square, shooting pepper balls and tear gas at demonstrators who refused to disperse.

Frank Knaack, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, pointed to an “enduring disconnect,” on Chief Reynolds’ part, “between what happened on the 30th versus what happened on the 31st.”

“What we saw the following day was law enforcement engage in mass violence against unarmed people protesting in a public space,” he said.

ACLU and a number of other groups pushed an independent report of the protest and violence that followed, but Charleston Police Department was charged by city leaders to review the events — “where they surprisingly found nothing wrong,” Knaack said.

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