Fours years ago I lost my home in a fire. I lost almost everything I owned including irreplaceable photos and keepsakes from my life. Months later my grief turned to horror when I was arrested, booked into jail and charged with burning down my own home because of the incorrect conclusions of Fire Investigator Capt. Sam Richardson.
For 13 months I feared that I would spend the rest of my life in prison based on the bad investigation conducted by Captain Richardson.
When my case finally came to trial it came to light Captain Richardson had used the standard myths about arson, misrepresented the evidence given to him by firefighters, potentionally made a deal outside of the law with my insurance company's attorney in not obtaining their investigative file (in which the claim log notes stated multiple times fire was not arson), Captain Andes gave a command to the Arson Dog to put her nose down and "fake it", and ignored evidence that I was innocent, in his rush to prove his theory that I was an arsonist.
I expended ALL my retirement and children’s college funds to hire the fire expert who literally wrote the textbook for arson investigation (NFPA-921). His investigation showed the fire was likely caused by accident. After another local and national arson expert testified privately with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the state dismissed the charges “In the Interest of Justice" and cited Captain Richardson’s sole evidence for arresting me was that I owned the house and was there the day of the fire.
My homeowner’s insurance Cause and Origin expert advised both the insurance company claims adjuster and myself within days of the fire that his investigation concluded the fire was accidental and undetermined.
The accusations that I burned down my own home financially ruined me. I spent nearly $300,000 -- money I had saved from my retirement -- to hire experts and attorneys to defend myself. The emotional distress cost me my job and I’m not sure the emotional trauma I’ve gone through will ever quite go away. The American justice system has shifted from presumed innocent until proven guilty to the opposite….. Guilty until I could prove my innocence.
I’m not the only person to be hurt by false accusations by Captain Richardson. My case was the second case that was dismissed within two weeks in which he was the lead Fire Investigator. Carl Vincent Ball-Caples, the other person falsely accused by Captain Richardson was not as fortunate as me because he couldn’t afford the bail that was set. He spent 15 months in jail before his case was dismissed without ever going to trial. And again, his case was dismissed "In the Interest of Justice" due to a shoddy investigation done by Captain Richardson.
And there may be many more innocent people sitting in jail.
Phoenix boasts of having the highest arson clearance rates -- the percentage of arson investigations that end in the arrest of a suspect -- three times higher than the national average rate.
In order to restore the community’s faith in our fire investigators and law enforcement, the City of Phoenix and the agencies that certified Captain Richardson should investigate whether the record number of arrests in Phoenix are because of shoddy investigative work and a rush to judgement.
Other agencies and national agencies are awaiting completion of the investigation by the city before determining what specific action to take.