Evidence against firefighter is invalid, court says
A former firefighter for the Villard Fire Department was charged in Pope County District Court with arson for allegedly setting three different fires in the Villard area.But in a Feb. 1 omnibus order, the court ruled that much of the evidence in ...
A former firefighter for the Villard Fire Department was charged in Pope County District Court with arson for allegedly setting three different fires in the Villard area.
But in a Feb. 1 omnibus order, the court ruled that much of the evidence in the case was obtained through improperly issued search warrants, and that statements made to Conservation Officer Darin Fagerman were in violation of the defendant’s right to remain silent.
The three felony charges of second-degree building arson, wildfire arson and negligent fires have not been dismissed against Nathan Ray Glaser, 22. But the suppressed evidence and statements may make a difference in the outcome of the case.
According to the criminal complaint on the charges, more than $70,000 of property damage was caused by one of the fires, reported April 11 south of Villard near 150th Avenue and 150th Street. Court records say a fire investigator determined the three fires fit the pattern of a serial arsonist.
The complaint says upon arriving to the scene, Pope County Sheriff’s Deputies learned that Glaser, then a member of the Villard Fire Department, had reported the fire near 150th Avenue.
He responded to the fire as part of the Villard Fire Department.
Two sheriff’s deputies believed the fire was suspicious. But when they spoke with Glaser at the hospital, where he had been transferred for treatment, he said the situation was a “weird coincidence.”
He told the deputies he had been driving by when he saw the grass fire and reported it. He said he understood why he could be seen a suspect, but denied any involvement.
During a second interview on April 18, this time with a conservation officer, Glaser repeated his story. The officer indicated he believed Glaser had started the fire.
Glaser then told the officer he didn’t want to answer any more questions. This is when the state says Glaser invoked his right to remain silent.
But the officer ignored Glaser’s statement and continued to ask him questions. That’s when Glaser added to his narrative of the incident.
“Glaser stated he was at the scene and did not recall starting the fire, but he must have started it if he was at the scene,” the criminal complaint says. “Glaser stated he was fixing a tread piece on his tire with a lighter and was pulled up on the grass.”
He told the officer then that he didn’t notice the fire was burning “as bad as it was,” but he patted it out, left the scene, and “realized the fire was getting huge.” Glaser also stated he didn’t have the tire in question anymore because he had burned it and replaced it with a spare.
He said he had started the fire with a white Bic lighter.
As a result of the court’s omnibus order, those statements from the added narrative to the conservation officer cannot be used in the prosecution.
In addition, investigators obtained search warrants based on those statements, and obtained a computer, SD card and two Bic lighters from Glaser’s home. They also obtained a Verizon Wireless bill under Glaser’s name that listed a 911 phone call from the April 11 fire.
Based on that phone bill, a sheriff’s deputy then obtained a search warrant for Glaser’s phone records to search for crime-related property, including GPS locations.
The court ruled Feb. 1 that evidence from those search warrants will now be suppressed. However, they ruled the existing evidence is still enough to warrant probable cause for Glaser’s three felony arson charges.
Glaser’s next court date is a pre-trial set for April 5.