Prosecutors charge two with attempted arson at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce after night of unrest in Madison

Federal prosecutors say surveillance video from the Madison YWCA shows arson suspects Anessa Fierro and Willie Johnson. Prosecutors used a tattoo to help identify Fierro.

MADISON – Federal prosecutors announced charges Wednesday against two people for attempted arson at a jewelry store and the offices of the state’s largest business lobbying group during a night of unrest in Madison last month. 

Charged were Anessa Fierro, 27, and Willie Johnson, 45. Both live in Madison. 

The pair are accused of being part of a group that broke windows and glass doors and poured liquid from gas cans into Chalmers Jewelers and the offices of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce in downtown Madison.

Anessa Fierro and Willie Johnson

The attacks on the buildings occurred in the early morning hours of Aug. 25, around the same time the WMC building was spraypainted with the phrase, “You have stolen more than we could ever loot.”

Garrett Chalmers, the manager of the Madison jewelry store and son of its owner, said he was glad to see charges were issued after repeated nights of destruction in downtown Madison this summer. He said those engaged in such activities were hurting the cause that sparked nationwide protests over how the police treat Black people. 

“It’s taking away from the message,” he said. “It’s taking away from the whole point of it.”

The group set fire to the entryway of WMC’s building and attempted to do the same at the jewelry store. They couldn’t get a fire started at the jewelry store before police arrived, Chalmers said. 

Above the jewelry store are seven apartments, three of which were occupied at the time, according to the charges.

“That’s the scary part,” Chalmers said. 

Fierro and Johnson were identified through video surveillance and arrested Wednesday. They are being held in the Dane County Jail and do not yet have attorneys, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Scott Blader.

ÔÇťArson is not protest,” Blader said in a statement. “It is a crime that places the entire community at extreme risk.”

If convicted, Fierro and Johnson face prison sentences of five to 20 years, according to Blader.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.