City of Brawley addresses arson arrests

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Interim Fire Chief Chuck Paraza, ASAC Craig Chillcott, Police Chief Mark Gillmore, Mayor Sam Couchman, Assistant DA Debra Owen, City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore

BRAWLEY – The City of Brawley held a special press conference Friday afternoon in the council chambers to address questions the City has been receiving on the arrest of four juveniles on the charges of arson Thursday.

Mayor Sam Couchman said, “As far as our attempt to resolve the issue of arson in the City of Brawley, I want to thank the ATF and local and outside agencies that provided us with assistance up to this point in the investigation. We want to update the public up to the point that we can.”

“Yesterday, through the extensive efforts of the ATF National Response Team and the ATF Los Angeles Field Division Office, which is comprised of approximately 30 personnel, and the Brawley Police and Fire Departments,” said Brawley Police Chief Mark Gillmore, “the investigation was conducted on behalf of all the fires in Brawley, but specifically the A Plus furniture fire. We were able to obtain evidence and information that led us to the identification of 4 juveniles aged 15, 14, 14, and 14. It’s unfortunate that we have juveniles in this position, but that’s what the investigation revealed.”

The four teens were arrested Thursday and incarcerated into the Imperial County Juvenile Hall on charges of arson, conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to commit commercial burglary, and commercial burglary.

Craig Chillcott, ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge, said, “It was a group effort. We all worked together on this investigation. I’m glad we were able to help.”

When asked if the teens would be tried as adults, Debra Owen, Assistant District Attorney of Imperial County, said, “At this point, it does not appear that they are eligible to be tried as adults. They are not charged in a home fire or arson that caused great bodily harm. Those would be crimes that they would be charged as adults.”

The investigation is still ongoing.

“We will continue the investigation until we are satisfied every stone is turned,” said Gillmore. “Brawley Police Department remains on high alert.”

When asked about what evidence helped in the arrest, Owen declined to comment because of the age of the defendants.

“It’s not proper for us to comment on evidence with juvenile defendants,” said Owen. “We cannot release names and proceedings are not open to the public.”

“In my experience, arson is one of the most difficult crimes to solve,” said Gillmore. “If not for the expertise that the ATF and Explosives Bureau and the National Response Team brought to our city, we would have not been able to conduct an investigation in this manner and obtain the evidence we were able to obtain without their assistance.”

As far as information from the public, Gillmore said, “We did receive information from the public. We are appreciative of the public participation. We received pieces that helped us put the puzzle together. There was no single piece that came in that stood out as the piece that we needed. With all of the pieces we obtained, they were helpful to us. We thank the public greatly for their help.”

The ATF will continue to help and offer support from their office in El Centro.

A $50,000 reward was offered to information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals.

“At the time these proceedings are complete,” said Gillmore, “and provided we obtain convictions, the City Attorney would then determine, based on the information that we received from various pieces of evidence from the public, whether or not those pieces rose to that level.”

“What the public needs to understand is the way the Juvenile Law is written,” said Owen. “Juvenile Law is written with the primary purpose of rehabilitation rather than punishment.”

“We want to continue our encouragement of businesses located in the downtown area,” said Couchman. “We have a big event coming up next week, Taking Back Main Street, which will be one step in doing that.”