Phoenix Arson Squad Comes Under Fire for Allegations of Questionable Arrests


The squad became the envy of fire departments across the country and but their shining record would soon be called into question.

Barbara Sloan, a mother of two working for an insurance company, lost her home in a fire on May 13, 2009. After the blaze was extinguished, Richardson and Andes were called to the scene.

In a video filmed by Richardson, the men are seen pointing out what they said were tell-tale signs of arson: The gas line to the stove was unplugged, an iron was found face down, and multiple drawers were found open, which investigators said helps provide air so the fire can burn faster.

Sadie the arson dog alerted to traces of accelerants at four spots throughout the house. A forensic accountant also revealed that Sloan was in massive debt and had been trying unsuccessfully to sell the house. But the crucial evidence came from Sadie, who detected accelerants at multiple locations around the house, making the case seem like a slam dunk.

Sloan was arrested and charged with arson, but released on bail. If convicted, she faced 29 years in prison.

But Sloan says she is innocent. She claims the drawers were open because she had recently fumigated the home and the gas line was disconnected because she was doing some remodeling.

In preparation for her trial, she sought help from Pat Andler, an independent certified fire investigator with more than 30 years of experience to examine the scene of the fire at her home.

"In my opinion it was not only … poorly done, everything associated with the investigation from day one… was not correct," Andler said.

Andler said all the physical evidence of the fire's origin leads to Sloan's car parked in the garage.

"By reviewing the 9-1-1 phone calls made by the first witnesses, they don't see fire anywhere else in the house but in the garage," he said. "The fire investigators here, Sam Richardson, never even entered the garage, never even inspected [or] opened up the hood of the vehicle that caused this fire."

"This was below fire investigation 101.This is kindergarten fire investigation," Andler added.

Lab tests on the four spots where Sadie alerted to accelerants also came back negative.

The Sloan case wasn't the only one. Just six days prior, Richardson and Andes had been called to another house fire across town, and that case has also raised serious questions about their investigation tactics.

The suspect was Carl Caples, who had been renting the house. Caples was behind on his rent. Shortly before the fire broke out, Caples had been arguing with his roommate, who wouldn't let him into the house. Part of the investigators' suspicion, Caples said, was that he had set the house on fire to try to kill his roommate.

Again, Sadie the arson dog alerted to traces of accelerants at several locations and Richardson made up his mind on the scene that this was a case of arson.

Caples, a former sheriff's deputy and certified nurse, was arrested and interrogated by Richardson, who claimed to have videotape evidence of Caples at the scene of the crime. Turns out there was no videotape, though lying is a common police tactic to elicit confessions.

Sadie the arson dog did alert to accelerants, and that was enough for investigators to arrest Caples. Unable to afford bail, he sat in jail for 16 months. Prosecutors offered him a plea deal for one year probation, but Caples refused.

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