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Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013, 4:25 p.m.

Firefighter's 'poor judgment' not a crime, prosecutors say

EVERETT -- An Everett firefighter bought antiques taken from a burned out building from someone selling them from a pickup truck parked along Hewitt Avenue, police records show.
The firefighter "exercised poor judgment," but investigators can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew the items were obtained illegally from the McCrossen Building, prosecutors wrote in an April 12 memo describing their decision not to file charges. That's a requirement under state law to convict someone of possessing stolen property.
Who actually owns each item -- and who took them from the building and how -- was impossible to determine after an Everett police investigation, records show. Witnesses and people who claimed their property was stolen gave conflicting statements.
There also were disputes over whether ownership of the items was clouded by the status of tenants' leases and a demolition contract signed after the blaze.
Moreover, people involved with the antiques vendors who brought the accusations against the firefighter also were entering the building unlawfully and removing items, including antiques that belonged to others, police determined.
The Herald on Thursday obtained the Everett police investigation and the prosecutor's memo under state public records laws.
The antiques in question were stored inside the historic McCrossen Building, which was gutted by a fire in November. What was left of the building, at the corner of Hewitt and Oakes avenues, was demolished a few weeks ago.
In March, two antiques vendors who had merchandise in the building accused the firefighter of selling goods online that disappeared from the site.
Everett detectives conducted dozens of interviews. Their case file spanned more than 150 pages.
Detectives found holes and conflicting information in witnesses' statements, police reports show. The firefighter's own statements also contained contradictory details. However, police don't believe he ever entered the condemned building or took items himself.
Based on those findings, there was no evidence he committed a theft or a burglary, prosecutors wrote.
Looting had been a problem at the fire site, records show. City officials were trying to keep people out.
One of the antiques vendors and the firefighter initially negotiated among themselves a resolution about who owned the antiques. A few days later, the same vendor complained to police and called the mayor's office.
Police also reportedly told the firefighter it was "obvious" that the items he bought had been taken from the McCrossen scene, including a lamp and an end table. The pickup truck was parked within the same block.
Police were unable to determine who sold the firefighter the items. The firefighter also described paying varying amounts for the items.
Prosecutors determined that the legal ownership of the antiques was unclear, and that it would have been difficult to prove they were stolen in the first place.
No one was allowed in the McCrossen Building during the demolition period for safety reasons. At least one woman has been cited for violating that order in an unrelated case, city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.
The firefighter, 43, was put on leave during the investigation. He has since returned to work.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com
Story tags » EverettCrimePoliceFire

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