CIty of Peoria Redacts Basic Public Records Info In Personnel File of Robert Brewster, Key Player in Recent Arson Story

While reporting our recent story, "Good Neighbor," (here it is), we requested the personnel file from the City of Peoria for fire captain Robert Brewster, the un-charged alleged mastermind of the December 2003 fire that destroyed the nearly completed residence of Peoria residents Mike and Betty Johnson.

So, yesterday, a nice woman named Blanco Armenta from the Peoria City Clerk's Office E-mailed us a copy of Brewster's file which we scanned merely out of curiosity.

Readers will recall the alleged motivation for Brewster to have paid two Phoenix firefighters $250 each to torch the Johnsons' sprawling home: The couple supposedly stiffed him for thousands of dollars for his moonlighting work as a concrete sub-contractor on the residence. 

But prosecutors apparently never believed they had enough direct evidence against Brewster to bust him. The two Phoenix goons served about three years' each behind bars for their role in the arson, and a third defendant--also a firefighter--was acquitted at trial.

Brewster's personnel file is filled with commendations and other good stuff, including the fact that he was promoted to captain a few years ago just as one of the arsonists (Joe Avey) was going to prison for burning down the Johnson's home.

What's most noteworthy in Brewster's file is this: Someone redacted all comments by his supervisors in his annual evaluations, which go back to 2000.

We're fairly sure that, based on his generally positive overall ratings, the comments weren't negative. By most accounts Brewster (who declined to speak with us for "Good Neighbor," presents favorably as a friendly and helpful sort. 

But the willy-nilly redaction of the only "real" portion of the personnel file--where supervisors jot down how things have been going for that employee--ain't right.

We would have loved to have seen what Brewster's supervisor (whose name also was edited out--lame) said of him in 2004, after the Johnson fire and while Peoria FD was compelled to place their guy on paid administrative leave.

Such are the vagaries of public records and how those in control of them choose to handle them, unimpressively in this instance.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin