Bay City Times

Arson expert stung in set-up
Evidence-tampering charges piling up against investigator

Thursday, May 31, 2007

By CRYSTAL HARMON, TIMES WRITER

After a house burned down on Friday on Bay-Arenac County Line Road, Pinconning-Fraser Fire officials called Michigan State Police fire investigator Jeffrey Wallace to the scene.

They suspected arson, they told him.

And when Wallace showed up with his arson dog named Cops and produced evidence that accelerants fueled the blaze, they had all the evidence needed to bring charges - against Wallace.
Jeffrey Wallace
MI State Police Fire Investigator Jeffrey Wallace
That's because local firefighters intentionally ignited the abandoned structure - without using any accelerant - in a ''sting'' on Wallace executed in conjunction with Michigan State Police and other agencies.

''This case really does smack at the very heart of the criminal justice system,'' said Bay County Prosecutor Kurt C. Asbury. ''This is a person trusted to investigate a criminal matter, and instead, he intentionally tampers with the evidence.''

Bay County District Judge Scott J. Newcombe arraigned Wallace, 53, of Macomb County, on Wednesday on charges of tampering with evidence involving a crime punishable by more than 10 years, tampering with evidence involving a crime punishable by less than 10 years, obstruction of justice and carrying a firearm while in commission of another felony. The first charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines of $20,000; the lesser tampering charge carried up to four years in prison and the obstruction charge is a five-year felony. A conviction of a felony firearms charge adds two years to the original felony.

Newcombe set bond at $25,000, and a man who identified himself as Wallace's son said he was prepared to bail his dad out of jail. Defense attorney Marc R. Lakin of Birmingham requested a personal recognizance bond, but Asbury objected.

After investigating the northern Bay County case on Friday, Wallace traveled to Gladwin County, where he was arrested on charges of tampering with evidence at fire scenes there. Wallace is charged with tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice and filing a false police report in Gladwin County and was granted a personal recognizance bond on those charges.

The investigation was conducted by Michigan State Police Fire Investigation Unit and Third District Headquarters Detectives, with assistance from technical and K-9 units and law enforcement and firefighting agencies in Grand Rapids, Gladwin, Pinconning-Fraser and Chesterfield Township.
 
Wallace, a retired fire marshal from Eastpointe, has worked around the state with his arson dog on various state police fire investigations. Additional charges may be brought in Macomb and St. Clair counties, according to Sgt. Allan Ogg of the Third District Headquarters.

Asbury said one unfortunate effect of the charges is that past convictions involving testimony and evidence from Wallace may be called into question.

Wallace will next appear before Newcombe for an evidence hearing at 1:30 p.m. June 22.

- Crystal Harmon covers Bay County courts and law enforcement for The Times. She can be reached at 894-9643 or by e-mail at charmon@bc-times.com.


Arson
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

Truth in Justice