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Surveillance video footage helps capture 3 suspected arsonists

Posted: July 21, 2012 - 11:10pm

Three people have been charged in connection with an arson at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park last month partly, police say, due to video surveillance that caught them in the act.

Juneau Police Department Lt. Kris Sell said video footage is always useful to police investigations and that this was no exception. The footage from a nearby concession stand captured the three suspects on camera “to varying levels of clarity.”

“We didn’t recognize all of them immediately but we were able to investigate and link the three together,” Sell said in a telephone interview.

Online court records show the District Attorney’s Office charged Dillon P. West, 24, Ryan M. Martin, 23, and Ashley R. Johnston, 18, with criminal mischief and trespass on Monday. A summons was issued Tuesday and executed by Alaska State Troopers this week.

All three are facing misdemeanor charges, but Martin and Johnston are facing more serious felony charges: third-degree criminal mischief. That’s a class ‘C’ felony that can carry up to five years in prison.

West and Martin are also charged with furnishing alcohol to persons under 21, a class ‘A’ misdemeanor that can carry a year in prison. Johnston was charged with possession or consumption by persons under 21, a ‘B’ misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in prison.

The city installed the cameras at the field in December to aid police investigations since the park is a frequent target of vandalism, arson and graffiti.

“Like clockwork — once or twice a week — we’d have to respond out there,” George Schaaf, the city’s Park and Landscape Superintendent, told the Empire in a recent interview.

People would routinely start fires in the bathrooms at the park, tear doors off the wall and paint graffiti near the concession stand.

“We were just at our wit’s end,” Schaaf said.

There was also a suspected arson in the same area last fall that caused about $100,000 in damage when it scorched the turf field. No one has been identified yet in that crime.

In this incident, the flames were discovered early in the morning on June 19 near the bleachers of the turf-stripped football field, home field to the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears football team.

It was quickly extinguished by firefighters but still caused about $20,000 in damages as it burned equipment and materials being used to replace the turf field, officials said.

A synthetic turf company, Shaw Sportexe, was in the process of replacing the aging field, a $1 million project that was delayed about two weeks. Police said the arson also indirectly delayed other turf projects in the Lower 48 because the materials destroyed in the fire — special adhesive glue and seam tape used to glue pieces of turf together — were specialized and scarce.

Police investigated the incident alongside fire marshals, and Sell said the footage provided enough clues to link the three suspects to the fire.

Sell added it was actually initially a four-person operation, but that the fourth person left the scene. Sell declined to identify him.

“We don’t believe that he committed any crimes,” Sell said.

The trio did not provide a motive, police said. They are scheduled to be arraigned in Juneau court next week.

Schaaf thanked the police and fire department for their hard work in the case and said the field project is wrapping up now and will be completed over the weekend, just in time for football practice.

Schaaf said he hopes these charges will make future vandals and arsonists think twice about their choices.

“I hope that it sends a message to people about how important that field is to the kids and the family that use it,” Schaaf said. “Our community is not going to let people get away with that kind of destruction.”

This isn’t the first time the surveillance cameras at the concession stand helped capture vandals. Three teenage boys — ages 12, 12 and 15 — were caught spray-painting graffiti on the concession stand and urinating on the building in January. Police said at the time that the footage enabled police to ID the teens and contact them. That case was ultimately handled administratively by the school district.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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