Former Maryland police chief facing dozens of attempted murder charges in alleged arsons

The former Laurel, Maryland, police chief was allegedly targeting rivals.

March 5, 2021, 4:43 PM

A former Maryland police chief is facing more than a dozen attempted murder charges after he allegedly targeted a series of enemies in at least 12 arson cases going back a decade, officials said.

David M. Crawford, the former police chief of Laurel, Maryland, was charged and arrested on Wednesday.

The 12 fires took place in Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard, Frederick and Charles counties from 2011 until late last year. Law enforcement said it had been unable to make a connection between the 12 alleged arsons until the most recent fire in Clarksburg on Nov. 17, 2020.

Like all of the fires, it was set in the middle of the night and the person seen on surveillance video had concealed their identity with a sweatshirt and hood, Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department said in a lengthy press release detailing all of Crawford's alleged crimes.

"The break in the case came shortly after the last known fire in 2020 when a link between the victims was discovered and that eventually led investigators and detectives to Crawford," Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department said in the statement. "Through the course of the investigation, it was determined that the structures and vehicles that Crawford intentionally set on fire were connected to victims with whom he had previous disagreements."

Crawford lawyer, Robert Bonsib, said he was reviewing the charges and defended his client's record of service.

"Dave Crawford has a long history of serving his community as a police officer for a large local department and then as Chief of Police for a municipal department," Bonsib said in a statement to ABC News. "The allegations in the criminal complaint are inconsistent with his long history of public service. We have just received the criminal complaint and are now just beginning the process of reviewing the prosecution's allegations."

Among the targets were allegedly a fellow former Laurel police chief, two other former police officers, two relatives and two of Crawford's former doctors. Upon executing a search warrant at Crawford's home in January, officers found a list naming victims of the arsons, authorities said.

Crawford resigned as police chief in Laurel in 2010. He'd also previously served as chief of the District Heights Police Department, officials said.

The first fire was set in May 2011 in Laurel, less than a year after he resigned as the city's police chief. Two vehicles at a house were seen being doused in gasoline and lit on fire, officials said. The target of the fire was allegedly Marty Flemion, Laurel's then-deputy city administrator, with whom Crawford did not have "a good working relationship," according to charging documents.

PHOTO: David Crawford, 69, a former police chief in Laurel, Md., was charged March 3, 2021, in connection with 12 arsons and several counts of attempted murder in relation to the fires.
David Crawford, 69, a former police chief in Laurel, Md., was charged March 3, 2021, in connection with 12 arsons and several counts of attempted murder in relation to the fires.
Prince George’s County Fire

Of the 12 arsons, there was one case in 2011, one in 2016, four in 2017, three in 2018, two in 2019 -- including one in which Crawford is a suspect but not charged -- and one case in 2020, according to the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department.

Crawford is now facing a laundry list of charges in the state across four counties.

In Prince George's County, where Laurel is located, Crawford is facing four counts of first-degree attempted murder, four counts of second-degree attempted murder, one count of first-degree arson, six counts of first-degree malicious burning and five counts of second-degree arson.

One of the fires in Prince George's County in 2019 allegedly targeted Richard Mclaughlin, Crawford's deputy chief while the two work for Laurel police, according to the charging documents. The two had a tenuous relationship and McLaughlin was promoted to chief when Crawford was asked to resign in 2010.

In that fire, and several others, police used information from Crawford's Apple Health app to determine he was awake at the times of the arsons, according to charging documents.

He's facing three counts of first-degree arson, three counts of first-degree malicious burning and one count of second-degree arson in Montgomery County.

Justin Scherstrom, Crawford's stepson, was targeted in three different fires in Montgomery County, according to charging documents. The fire on Nov. 20, 2020, the final arson in the decadelong string of attacks, occurred at Scherstrom's home in Clarksburg.

In Frederick County, he's facing one count of first-degree arson, one count of second-degree arson and one count of first-degree malicious burning. The fire was allegedly set on the property of Bud Price, who served as deputy chief of the Prince George's County police while Crawford was an officer. When Price retired, Crawford asked to be recommended to fill the position. However, Price decided to nominate another officer instead, according to charging documents.

In Howard County, Crawford is facing eight counts of first-degree attempted murder, eight counts of second-degree attempted murder, three counts of first-degree malicious burning, two counts of first-degree arson, two counts of second-degree arson, one count of second-degree malicious burning and "various" counts of malicious destruction.

The eight attempted murder charges come from two arsons in 2017 when Crawford allegedly lit fires in Elkridge and Ellicott City and there were five people and three people inside the homes, respectively.

The fire in Elkridge targeted the home of Drs. Russell and Veronica Antico, who owned a chiropractic practice in Howard County and treated Crawford 19 times, according to charging documents. Both doctors, as well as their two children and Veronica Antico's mother were in the home at the time of the arson.

He could still face charges in Charles County, where he is suspected of lighting a car and garage on fire in March 2019, authorities said.

Crawford is being held at the Howard County Department of Corrections.

ABC News' Alexander Mallin and Ben Stein contributed to this report.