SCHENECTADY – A Schenectady man admitted Wednesday to using a Molotov cocktail to set a city woman’s car on fire after a June 2020 protest, officials said.
Joel Malek, 43, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a destructive device. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison at his September sentencing.
Malek admitted to using the improvised incendiary device June 5, 2020 to set fire to the vehicle of a woman identified in the plea agreement as J.C. The vehicle was parked at the corner of Paige and Hamilton streets.
Malek and another unidentified conspirator approached the vehicle and the other conspirator broke a driver’s side window with a hammer and ran away, according to Malek’s plea agreement.
Malek then approached the vehicle holding the Molotov cocktail, ignited it and threw it into the vehicle through the broken window, starting the vehicle on fire, court documents say. The device was made from a champagne bottle.
The victim, Jahonna Chaires, who spoke to The Daily Gazette days after the incident, said the explosion came after she attempted to break up a dispute at a rally.
She described watching a white man described by witnesses as an “agitator” come close to getting beaten, she then stepped in to intervene — not only to maintain neighborhood peace but also for his safety.
Chaires, who is Black, awoke the next morning to a smoldering vehicle.
The busted-out back window of her 2005 Acura MDX, she said then, revealed the charred remains of a Molotov cocktail and a hammer Chaires believed was used to break the window.
The clash followed a peaceful protest that saw demonstrators march from the County Jail and up Albany Street to Brandywine Avenue before marchers turned around and headed back toward Jerry Burrell Park, which is located in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.
The marchers splintered off and continued to share personal stories of police encounters and racism, inequalities that have come to a head following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last year.
Malek’s plea agreement did not detail what led to the incident, but Acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon referenced Floyd’s death in a statement issued on Malek’s plea.
“Joel Malek firebombed a vehicle, damaging a Schenectady resident’s property and frightening a community already on edge from the civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s May 25, 2020 death in Minneapolis,” Bacon’s statement reads. “Today’s plea holds Malek fully accountable for his brazen and cruel act. I commend the investigators who worked quickly to solve the firebombing and arrest this dangerous man.”
Malek has remained in custody since his Oct. 6 arrest. Though he faces up to 10 years in the case, he gave up any right to appeal a sentence of 7 years, 3 months or less.