Casey Goonan has been charged in connection with a string of arsons, including the torching of a UC Berkeley Police vehicle on June 1, 2024. (Photo/Abolition Media)
Casey Goonan has been charged in connection with a string of arsons, including the torching of a UC Berkeley Police vehicle on June 1, 2024. (Photo/Abolition Media)

Charges filed in UC Berkeley arsons, as pro-Palestinian groups voice support

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Alameda County prosecutors charged a 34-year-old self-described “scholar activist” with seven arson-related felonies on Thursday, while his defense lawyer argued to the press that law enforcement is targeting his client for his “free Palestine” beliefs.

Casey Robert Goonan of Oakland was arrested Monday by state and federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI, according to Cal Fire. He was taken into custody at his parents’ home in Pleasant Hill, the SF Standard reported

Goonan is charged with four felony counts of arson after police say he tried to incinerate a UC Berkeley Police Department vehicle on June 1 and set three more fires on campus earlier this month, according to the complaint filed Thursday by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. He is also charged with three felony counts of possessing a destructive device, which prosecutors said were Molotov cocktails.

Anonymous posts purporting to be from pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists took credit for the arson attacks. The day after the police vehicle was partially incinerated at UC Berkeley, an anonymous post on the far-left website Abolition Media offered details about the attack and photos of the charred SUV. The post said the act came “from a place of love for Palestine” and “to retaliate against the University of California for its support for the zionist israel settler colony.” It closed by saying, “Knife to the throat of zionism” and “Death to amerikkka.”

Prosecutors charged Goonan with the felonies in connection with that act along with three other campus arsons: a separate one on June 1, another outside of Koshland Hall on June 13 and one at a construction site on June 16

Meanwhile on June 15, a manifesto appeared on Indybay.org, a hub for far-left Bay Area activism, calling for “Operation Campus Flood,” a reference to the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre in Israel. “There is only one response to a genocidal state and that is to burn its policing and military infrastructure to the ground,” the manifesto said.

Goonan’s lawyer, Jeff Wozniak, said his client plans to enter a not guilty plea and will “fight these charges.” He said Goonan is being persecuted for his political beliefs.

“No evidence has been presented yet connecting him to these allegations,” Wozniak wrote in an email to journalists. “However, it is clear that Mr. Goonan is still being prosecuted for these incidents based upon his political beliefs in a free Palestine and against the ongoing genocide in Gaza.” In another email, Wozniak called law enforcement’s pursuit of his client a “political investigation.”

Goonan was being held in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on $450,000 bail as of Friday morning.

Goonan earned a Ph.D. in African American studies two years ago from Northwestern University, where he authored a dissertation partially titled “Forms of abolitionism in the movement against the prison industrial complex.” 

He reportedly has been arrested for extreme activism before. 

In September, Goonan was arrested in San Francisco where police say he resisted arrest, causing injury to a police officer, and committed felony vandalism. Prosecutors filed that case on Sept. 20, court records show, likely in connection with a transgender rights demonstration outside a conference of a feminist group that rejects the “replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity.’” Video published online showed a black-clad activist being tackled and arrested by police. 

Though he remains behind bars in Alameda County, Goonan had been scheduled to appear in court in San Francisco at 9 a.m. Friday for a hearing in the September case.

While his lawyer said there is no evidence connecting him to the arsons, Goonan has been embraced by activist groups in the wake of his arrest.

National Students for Justice in Palestine, the anti-Zionist group that played a key role in organizing the tent encampment protests that swept the nation’s college campuses this spring, wrote “Free Casey Goonan!” and “Free Palestine; Long live the intifada” in all caps in a social media post Thursday.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the campus group that likewise helped begin the national encampment movement, also announced its support for Goonan in a social media post. “Free Casey Goonan,” it said in all caps in an image superimposed on a flame and added, “Glory to all our martyrs” and “Resistance is love.” The Escalate Network, a group calling for extreme protest tactics, said it will launch a fundraiser for Goonan.

Goonan graduated in 2008 from College Park High School in Pleasant Hill in Contra Costa County, where he was a standout athlete. He was a starting pitcher and in 2008 helped lead the baseball team to its first North Coast Section 3A East Bay championship in the school’s history. His pitching performance was described as “dominant” in the East Bay Times. At 6-foot-2, Goonan also played football and was listed as a recruit as a wide receiver on an ESPN website.

His mother celebrated his graduation from Northwestern in an Instagram post in June 2022. “Last weeks graduation from Northwestern. Casey got his PhD!” the post said. “Onto job apps.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.