Michigan prosecutors charged 54-year-old Nikki Joly — a transgender person — for allegedly burning down their own home in 2017 in what investigators appear to believe was intended to be a fake hate crime.
The LGBT activist — whose five pets were killed in the fire — had allegedly received threats in the past and was instrumental in leading a battle for LGBT rights in Jackson, Michigan.
“Authorities later determined the fire was intentionally set, but the person they arrested came as a shock to both supporters and opponents of the gay rights movement,” The Detroit News reported on Monday. “It was the citizen of the year — Nikki Joly.”
While an official motive has not yet been established, The Detroit News noted that an investigative police report shed light on a possible motive:
Two people who worked with Joly at St. Johns United Church of Christ, where the Jackson Pride Center was located, said he had been frustrated the controversy over gay rights had died down with the passage of the nondiscrimination law, according to the report.
The church officials, Barbara Shelton and Bobby James, when asked by police about a possible motive for the fire, said Joly was disappointed the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival, held five days before the blaze, hadn’t received more attention or protests.
Shelton later told a reporter she was “not sure” that she told police that.
“Shelton and James both described Nikki as very deceptive and stated that when it comes to Nikki there are ‘layers of manipulation,'” police detective Aaron Grove wrote in the report.
“It’s embarrassing,” said LGBT rights activist Travis Trombley. “How do you do it to the community you have put so much effort into helping?”
Elmer Hitt, Jackson’s director of police and fire services, said on Monday that members of the community perceived the blaze to be a hate crime, but after a year of investigating the crime, prosecutors “ended up issuing charges” for first-degree arson on Joly.
The Detroit Free Press reported that “in the Joly case, police suspicion was based on a timeline of events, phone records, physical evidence and witness statements.”
“Joly had the ‘means and opportunity to start the fire,’ according to a report published by MLive.com in October,” The Detroit Free Press added. “The MLive article said security camera video showed Joly filling a gas can before the fire, gasoline was on his clothing, a witness smelled gas on him, photographs seemed to be missing from the walls, and after the fire, Joly received $50,000 in donations.”
The alleged hate crime hoax comes after “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was charged last week for allegedly lying to police about a racist and homophobic attack on himself that happened on January 29.
Police allege that Smollett orchestrated the attack because he was angered over his $65,000 per episode compensation.
“Let me tell, you, Robin, there’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet, and does not support the version he gave,” Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson said on Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“There’s still a lot of physical evidence, video evidence and testimony that just simply does not support his version of what happened,” Johnson continued. “It’s important for people to recognize that it’s not the Chicago Police Department saying he did something, it’s the evidence, the facts and the witnesses that are saying this.”