Community rallies around local activist charged with attempted arson of Milwaukee Police Station

NOW: Community rallies around local activist charged with attempted arson of Milwaukee Police Station

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A judge ordered community activist Vaun Mayes to be released pending his trial, a decision met with loud applause by dozens of supporters packed inside the courtroom on Thursday.

About 100 of Mayes' supporters were in the courtroom. When Mayes was led into the courtroom in handcuffs, some supporters could be heard crying.

The hearing was to decide if Mayes would be held in jail or released pending trial.

"I think the community as a whole exhaled and took a deep breath," Supporter of Vaun Mayes Samuel Alford, said. “Vaun smiled and walked away very supported."

A letter submitted to the judge Thursday clearly shows the reason so many people filled the courtroom. Saying in part:

Vaun has been dedicated to uplifting our community. He has never given up on us, so we can’t give up on him now.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week that Vaun Mayes, 31, is now facing charges of arson, possession of a firearm by a felon, and possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence. According to the criminal complaint, Mayes and others planned to firebomb the Milwaukee Police Department's District Seven Police Station during the Sherman Park unrest in August of 2016.

The prosecutor already appealed the judge's decision to set Mayes free as he awaits trial Thursday. They argue Mayes is a danger to the community, alleging he used teens he mentors to plot the firebombing of a police station nearly two years ago. They also alleged associates of Mayes tried to intimidate a witness.

The prosecution said in part:

The defendant maintains his role as a mentor to young men and women in the community and that is a high risk considering the crime and plan that he is accused of.

Mayes’ Attorney Robert LeBell argued that his client has cooperated with authorities.

“If he knew he was under investigation, why would he stay around and why wouldn’t he do something two years ago,” LeBell said.

Mayes spearheaded the organization ‘Program the Parks’ where he mentors young Milwaukee kids and teens. His supporters believe he is being targeted.

“It seems like the old suppression of activist voices in the community,” Alford said.

Ultimately, the judge ordered Mayes to be released. That will likely happen on Friday. Meanwhile, prosecutors expect to take the case to a grand jury by July 11 for a formal indictment.

“The government provided nothing other than bare-bones allegations,” LeBell said. “I think the judge saw that and made a decision."

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