Prosecutors in Phoenix, Ariz., have declined to bring criminal charges against two arson investigators from the Phoenix Fire Department whose truthfulness was questioned during the examination of a 2009 house fire.
State police investigators who examined the case had recommended that charges of false swearing be filed against investigators Sam Richardson and Fred Andes for discrepancies in statements they made in the case.
“We concluded after a criminal review that we can’t establish that anybody knowingly made a false statement or was untruthful,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said. He noted, though, that problems in the way the investigation was conducted raise concerns about the competence and credibility of Richardson and Andes.
Montgomery said his office won’t prosecute cases that had been investigated by Richardson and Andes and disclosed the problems from the 2009 investigation to lawyers in three other cases involving both men. Similar disclosures will be made in another 25 cases dating back to early 2008. It’s unknown whether cases involving the investigators will be dismissed or overturned, Montgomery said.
Messages left with the Phoenix Fire Department seeking comment from both investigators and the agency’s leaders weren’t immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.
The credibility of Richardson and Andes came under attack in a case in which a Phoenix woman was charged with starting a fire at her home in May 2009. A summary of the case by investigators said the home had been on the market for a few years and that a disconnected gas line was found to be open in the home’s laundry room.
Prosecutors later dropped the charges and now say the woman is not a suspect in the fire.
The state police investigation examined discrepancies in statements made by the two arson investigators.
Prosecutors say Richardson was incorrect when he said the home’s front door was barricaded when fire crews arrived and that it took four firefighters using a hammer to open the door. The door was difficult to open because it was blocked by furniture, but it was opened by two firefighters who pushed hard on the door and didn’t use tools to open it.
Richardson failed to confirm his inaccurate assumption that the door was opened by the standard-size crew of four firefighters and that they used hammers to open the door, but that doesn’t establish that he knew his statement was false when he made it, prosecutors said.
Another issue that prosecutors examined was whether Richardson was accurate in his testimony that the gas line was opened and spread gas throughout the house before the fire. Prosecutors concluded that there was evidence to confirm Richardson’s belief.
They noted that another fire official supported the conclusion that gas was leaking from the laundry room, and a gas company found an open gas line in the laundry room. Prosecutors said there’s no likelihood of proving Richardson believed his statement to be false when he made it.
Andes was examined for a statement he made during a deposition that his arson-trained dog was 100 percent accurate. Prosecutors say Andes believed the statement to be true at the time he made it and provided a rationale for his belief, regardless of the validity of the belief.
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