NBC News 12


Raked Over the Coals: An Investigative Series by Wendy Halloran

Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:24 PM

The Phoenix Fire Department's elite fire investigations unit, once lauded as the most successful arson squad in the country, is being investigated for allegations of misconduct.  They made arrests in more than half of the fires they said were arson.  The problem?  They conducted shoddy, biased investigations that led to false arson findings, and the arrests of innocent people for crimes that never happened in the first place.  Follow NBC News 12's Wendy Halloran's expose here.

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The FBI is investigating allegations that members of the Phoenix Fire Department violated the civil rights of two people who were arrested and charged with arson despite no evidence connecting them to the burnings of their homes.

The cases against Barbara Sloan and Carl Caples were dropped by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Sloan said she spent $300,000 to defend herself; Caples spent 16 months in jail awaiting trial.

In April, Sloan and Caples filed complaints against the Fire Department with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix.

Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan sent a memo, dated April 15, to City Manager David Cavazos announcing that he had formed a Fire Investigation Review Committee.

The panel will review the methods, data and performance used to calculate the department’s arson-case clearance rate — the percentage of fires determined to be arson that result in arrests.

The department in May 2012 said that it had one of the highest arson clearance rates in the country, at 57 percent.

Khan will head the committee, which will include retired Superior Court Chief Justice Jim Keppel, Mesa Assistant Police Chief Heston Silbert and six others.

The Fire Department’s internal investigation follows a 12 News investigation that aired in February profiling the Sloan case.

Sloan’s home, near Roma Avenue and Camelback Road, burned down May 13, 2009. Two Phoenix arson investigators, Capt.Sam Richardson and Capt. Fred Andes, concluded that Sloan had committed arson after she wasn’t able to sell the home.

The County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges on Oct. 15, 2010, after Richardson admitted he had Sloan arrested solely because she was the homeowner and that he had no evidence tying her to the fire.

Richardson’s and Andes’ colleagues and two independent arson experts determined the fire started in Sloan’s car, which was parked in the garage. No accelerant was found.

Richardson also was the lead investigator in the Caples case.

The home Caples was renting near 19th Avenue and Union Hills Drive burned May 7, 2009.

Richardson concluded that Caples poured gasoline on three areas in the back of the home. A separate investigation by Caples’ defense expert concluded that the fire started in the attic and was caused by a short in the electrical system.

On Sept. 27, 2010, the day Caples’ trial was to begin, the County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges.

The FBI has no timetable for its investigation.

Khan said the executive review committee will present its findings and recommendations by the end of the summer.

The members of the Fire Investigation Review Committee are:

Review Committee


Arson
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

Truth in Justice