Montgomery Won't Charge Phoenix Fire Officials Over Bad Investigation

Two Phoenix Fire Department captains accused of lying in an arson probe won't be charged criminally, but their actions have spurred a reform of investigative procedures.

In July, officials with the state Department of Public Safety recommended that Captains Sam Richardson and Fred Andes be charged with lying and perjury following allegations that they botched a 2009 arson investigation. Barbara Sloan, 50, was arrested following the investigation, but the Maricopa County Attorney's Office later dropped the case in 2010 to a lack of evidence.

Today, Montgomery announced during his weekly news conference that while he would not move forward with criminal charges against the two investigators, but he's adding theirs name to the "Brady List," as it was formerly called, to be sure their past conduct is disclosed to defense attorneys in future cases.

See also: -Michael Marin, "Burning Man," May Have Committed Suicide in the Courtroom

A letter sent today to Kara Kalkbrenner, acting chief of the fire department states that the probe of the arson investigators raised "numerous concerns about both investigators' competence and credibility."

Any previous cases investigated by either Richardson or Andes will be declined for prosecution, as will any cases by any investigator in which an "improperly documented" canine was used, Montgomery says in the letter.

The county attorney wants the fire department to work with the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board to re-train its investigators and re-evaluate its canine program based on the findings of the DPS probe. All dogs used by the department to sniff out traces of fire accelerants like gasoline should have a logbook detailing the animal's accuracy rate.

The DPS probe found several instances in which the arson investigators made questionable statements in their reports, but it would have been impossible to prove they made the statements knowingly, which is an important criteria for a successful false-swearing conviction, Montgomery says.

For instance, Captain Andes stated under oath that his dog was 100 percent accurate in detecting ignitable liquids. While he may believe it, no documentation proves his statistic. In other example, Captain Richardson had differing stories on whether he actually walked through Sloan's garage, but no evidence shows he knowingly lied.

Montgomery's office is reviewing past cases worked by the investigators to look for potential problems.

One important case Andes worked was the arson investigation of Michael Marin, which was covered by New Times in 2009. The detection of accelerants by a dog played an important role in the probe and, later, the prosecution of the former Wall Street trader for burning his house down. After a jury handed a guilty verdict to Marin, who had proclaimed his innocence, the defendant gulped a handful of cynanide, began foaming at the mouth and died in the courtroom.

UPDATE: 3:30 p.m. -- Acting Chief Kalkbrenner didn't get back to us -- it turns out she's in Washington D.C. But Deputy Chief Shelly Jamison tells us, "we respect the findings. We take the recommendations seriously."

An administrative review of the matter is underway, she says, prohibiting her from making further statements.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern