DOJ Seal

Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
Western District of Wisconsin

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Timothy M. O’Shea (Acting)
, United States Attorney

Man Sentenced to 5 Years for Attempted Arson During 2020 Civil Unrest in Madison

MADISON, WIS. – Timothy M. O’Shea, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Willie Tremaine Johnson, 46, Madison, Wisconsin pleaded guilty and was sentenced today by Chief U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson to 5 years in prison for attempted arson.  Johnson and codefendant Anessa Fierro were indicted by a federal grand jury for this offense in October 2020.

In the early morning hours of August 25, 2020, Johnson attempted to set fire to two commercial buildings in Madison, Wisconsin.  Business A was an office building, and Business B was a mixed-use rental property with apartments on the upper levels and retail space on the street level.  Several apartments were occupied by sleeping residents at the time. 

At Business A, Johnson helped a group of people break out the building’s front windows, and another individual poured gasoline along the walls.  Johnson then lit material that had been tossed onto the gasoline, causing the vapors to ignite. 

At Business B, Johnson, along with several other people, broke out the retail store’s windows.  With the interior of the building exposed, another individual poured gasoline along the front walls.  Johnson attempted to ignite the gasoline vapors with a cigarette lighter but fled when officers from the Madison Police Department arrived. 

Fierro’s combined plea and sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 19, 2021.  Because she has not yet pleaded guilty, the charges against her are merely an accusation and she is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.       

“Arson should never be confused with legitimate protest.  Those who engage in such conduct without regard for the potentially deadly consequences will be held accountable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney O’Shea.  “Our office will work with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to bring those who commit this type of crime to justice.”

"Willie Johnson displayed a complete disregard for the safety of others by committing these acts,” said ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Ortiz, of the St. Paul Field Division. “ A fire can easily consume a building in mere minutes, putting every occupant or passerby at risk of serious injury or death.  We are glad the attempts were unsuccessful since a number of individuals lived in apartment units above one of the locations he attempted to set ablaze.  Whether attempted arson or actual, ATF is committed to investigating arson-related crimes alongside our state and local partners.”

The charges against Johnson and Fierro are the result of an investigation conducted by the Madison Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Chadwick M. Elgersma prosecuted this case. 

St. Paul Field Division