A transgender man and gay rights activist in Michigan once named “Citizen of the Year” by a local newspaper is now accused of intentionally burning down his house two years ago, killing his two dogs and three cats.
Nikki Joly was named by the Jackson City Patriot last year as the conservative town’s top citizen after organizing its first gay community center and gay pride festival.
Front line rights activist Joly, 54, also helped pass an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing and public facilities after nearly two decades of failed attempts, the Detroit News reports.
The fire at is home was initially reported as a hate crime.
However, Joly was later charged with first-degree arson after authorities determined the blaze was intentionally set — and that the timeline of events made it difficult for anyone but him to have ignited the fire that killed his two German shepherds and three cats, according to the police report.
Transgender activist Nikki Joly [right], arrives in court with defense attorney Daniel Barnett in Jackson City, MI on Friday, Feb 19. Joly is charged with arson in connection with a fire in his home that killed five pets.
Joly is seen with one of the two German Shepherd’s that died in the fire. Three of his cats also died
Nikki Joly allegedly had been frustrated that the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival didn’t attract more protests or generate more attention for gay rights
Two people who worked with Joly at St. Johns United Church of Christ told police that he had been frustrated that the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival didn’t attract more protests or generate more attention for gay rights.
One of the church officials, Barbara Shelton stopped just short of the police assessment, saying they [police], may have mischaracterized what she told investigators.
“Not sure I said that,” Shelton wrote the newspaper in an email. “I have no idea about anything, never heard Nikki comment in any fashion about anything like that.”
Joly’s attorney, meanwhile, has dismissed the charges, saying his client had no need to generate more attention for his activism, especially since Joly has said he’s received death threats in the past because of it.
Intentional arson by home owner OR hate crime?
Shell of Nikki Joly’s burned home in Jackson City, MI
“It doesn’t make sense,” her attorney Daniel Barnett said.
“He was citizen of the year. There was plenty of media coverage already before the fire.”
Traces of gasoline were found in five rooms inside Joly’s two-story, wood-frame home, which he shared with his partner, Chris Moore, according to the police report. Two days later, Joly urged supporters on Facebook not to respond to the fire with threats of additional violence.
“Yes, be angry, be very angry,” Joly wrote. “Use that anger to force good! Use that anger to make change.”
Nikki Joly [right] wed girfriend Chris Moore [left] weeks before alleged arson
Nikki Joly [photo] weeks later during an interview two law enforcement officers investigating the fire as a possible hate crime, neither denied nor admitted to arson – Traces of gasoline had been found on the clothing he wore on the day of the fire
During an interview two weeks later with police and two FBI agents investigating the fire as a possible hate crime, Joly dropped his head at one point during a four-hour session. But he did not deny or admit setting the fire, although traces of gasoline were also found on the clothing he wore on the day of the fire, according to the report.
“We determined it pretty quickly to be an arson,” Jackson’s director of police and fire services, Elmer Hitt, told the Detroit Free Press. “We investigated it over what probably was a year’s time before the prosecutor ended up issuing charges.”
A hearing to file motions in the case is scheduled for March 8, according to the Detroit News.
The case has drawn comparisons to the case of actor Jussie Smollett, who has been charged with disorderly conduct for falsely reporting a racist attack in Chicago.
Still, some of Joly’s supporters said they will never believe he set the blaze.
“There’s no path for me to believe it could ever be true,” said Elody Samuelson, a bisexual woman who raised money for Joly after the blaze. “There’s no way he did it — not a bit, not a chance.”