Felony charges were filed Tuesday against a 25-year-old Missouri man accused of setting a fire inside the Amazon store at Westfield Century City and pointing a gun at a store employee, prompting a mass evacuation of the shopping mall.
Nicholas K. Oates, who was arrested on Saturday in Venice, pleaded not guilty to six counts of arson and one count each of assault with a firearm and burglary.
Oates allegedly went to the children’s section of the Amazon store Friday and set books on fire. He pulled a handgun on a store employee who confronted him and then lit a package on fire before fleeing the scene, prosecutors allege.
The burning package set off fire sprinklers, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore told reporters at a news conference Tuesday at police headquarters.
“What unfolded from that was a cascading series of events that lasted well into the evening and early morning hours of Saturday,” Moore said as he described a situation that “created terror in the minds of hundreds of shoppers.”
Police and firefighters, and later a bomb squad, responded about 12:40 p.m. Friday to a report of a man with a gun and a suspicious package inside the Amazon store, triggering an evacuation of the upscale shopping center and the temporary lockdown of offices and businesses near the mall.
Beverly Hills High School, located less than a mile away, was also placed on temporary lockdown as a precaution.
Some shoppers and employees were instructed to shelter in place before being allowed to leave the shopping center several hours later.
Police reported about 6 p.m. that the smoldering item in the store was not explosive and the evacuation was over.
Investigators reviewed hours of closed circuit camera recordings, which led them to identify the suspect and his vehicle, Moore said.
Oates was arrested about 8 p.m. Saturday by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific Division assigned to the Venice Beach Task Force. They recognized the suspect sitting at a nearby beach at the Venice boardwalk and took him into custody.
Oates confessed to his involvement in the arson and assault, according to Moore, who praised police, firefighters and mall staff for their work amid chaos, confusion and inconvenience to the public.
Police had conducted safety training in June at the mall, which had a grand reopening in October, Moore said.
If convicted as charged, Oates could face up to 21 years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
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