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Da Vinci Fire Suspect Was Angry About Police Killings Of African Americans, Witnesses Say

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The man accused of starting the massive fire at downtown's Da Vinci apartment complex in 2014 said that he was upset over police killings of African Americans, according to witnesses.

During a pretrial hearing Tuesday for Dawud Abdulwali, who is charged with setting fire to the unfinished, controversial Geoffrey Palmer development, a witness testified that the suspect ranted about the killings a week after the fire, according to the L.A. Times. The witness, Popaul Tshimanga, said that at a party in a Hollywood hotel, Abudulwali was angry about the about the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

"He was mad," Tshimanga told the court Tuesday, saying that Abdulwali said "he burned the building" along the 110 Freeway. "He didn't like the way the cops were killing black people."

The suspect's former roommate, Edwyn Gomez, had also previously told investigators that he heard Abdulwali speak about the protests in Ferguson and him wanting vengeance. "Cops kill my people," Gomez said his roommate told him, according to the Times. "We should go do this, we should go burn some [expletive] down.... We should go break some windows."

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At Tuesday's hearing, however, Gomez said that he didn't recall Abdulwali making those statements and was reportedly upset when the recording of his conversation with police was played in the courtroom. Gomez said he felt manipulated by police and didn't know he was being recorded at the time. He also said that Abdulwali took him in when he was homeless.

Tshimanga added that he and Abdulwali had consumed cocaine and alcohol at the Hollywood party, and both Tshimanga and Gomez said they didn't go to the police at the time because they didn't think Abdulwali was serious about setting fire to the buildings.

The Da Vinci apartment fire occurred on December 8, 2014. At the time, the complex was in the early framing stages. The extensive blaze damaged nearby buildings and signs on the 110 freeway. Investigators eventually determined the cause of the blaze to be arson and Abdulwali was arrested months later on suspicion of arson. He has been charged with aggravated arson and arson of a structure, and has pleaded not guilty. Palmer was recently sued by the city for $20 million for not taking sufficient steps to prevent such an incident.

Abdulwali's preliminary hearing will continue Wednesday.