Justice Is Everyone's Business

Seeking to Restore Integrity and
Public Trust in Our Justice System

Justice will not be served until those who are
unaffected are as outraged as those who are.
—Benjamin Franklin

The Siege on Summer Street (Salem, Oregon 22 January 2019)

6. The Bogus Fire Marshal Report

This is the sixth of a seven-part story.

What We Expect of Crime Scene Investigations

Let’s think back on detective shows we have seen. 

  1. The crime scene is kept inviolate.  No evidence is removed, except by forensic experts during investigation of the scene.
  2. The coroner works independently.  No one tells her what to do — she is the expert.

But as we shall see:

  1. The Salem police removed exculpatory evidence from a scene of alleged arson
  2. The Salem Deputy Fire Marshal (DMF) took direction from—and acted as a proxy for—the Salem police
  3. The DMF concluded her investigation as directed by the police.

Note: Exculpatory evidence is anything that might cause the jury to doubt the charges against the accused.

Tampering with Crime Scene: Removal of Evidence

Officer Scott Kofoid, reported that "Ketchem eventually revealed himself off the North-East Corner of the home."  After the injured Ketchem was taken to the rear of the armored vehicle and Ketchem was given medical aid, Kofoid stated:

"For the remainder of my time on scene, I assisted with storing gear and cleaning up spent ordnance.  Included in the ordnance retrieved were the two spent FSDD hulls.  At the request of Lt. Adams, the operators and I remained on-scene until being ordered back to the Salem Police Department."

Source: Incident Supplement, Ofc. Scott Kofoid, Pg. 2 of 3, Bates 00135.

Removal of evidence from the scene is also documented in a report cited earlier: The Salem Police Department Property Report Source states that

  • Two 40 MM CS gas canister cartridge casings from neighbor yard 945 E Street NE. (#31, #32, Pg. 5)
  • Four 40 MM CS gas canister cartridge casings from "[redacted] back yard near fence." (#33, #34, #35, #36, Pg. 6 of 15)
  • Two pieces 40 MM fired round from under deck in rear of house (#41, Pg. 7 of 15)
  • Three spent smoke canisters, inert (#52, Pg. 8 of 15)
  • 13 spent gas round bases collected from within and around (one exterior) ground floor and upper floor by Det. Curtis Abel (#52, Pg. 8 of 15)

Source: Salem Police Department Property Report, Pg. 5 of 15, Bates 00413; Pg. 6 of 15, Bates 00414; Pg. 7 of 15, Bates 00415; Pg. 8 of 15, Bates 00416.

We find it hard to believe this removal of evidence and alteration of the scene before the fire marshal inspection was without purpose.  Of all people, police officers know the importance of the integrity of an (alleged) crime scene.  Why did they remove these plausible causes of fire, leaving only vague verbal descriptions of where they were found?

Oregon State Law is clear on this matter:

2017 ORS 162.295 Tampering with physical evidence

(1) A person commits the crime of tampering with physical evidence if, with intent that it be used, introduced, rejected or unavailable in an official proceeding which is then pending or to the knowledge of such person is about to be instituted, the person:

(a) Destroys, mutilates, alters, conceals or removes physical evidence impairing its verity or availability; or

(b) Knowingly makes, produces or offers any false physical evidence; or

(c) Prevents the production of physical evidence by an act of force, intimidation or deception against any person.

(2) Tampering with physical evidence is a Class A misdemeanor. [1971 c.743 §204]

Recently, a Marion County Sheriff's detective was charged with evidence tampering, among other crimes.  See "Charges against Marion County detective put criminal cases in jeopardy, some dismissed," in Statesman Journal, March 21, 2019.

Police Supervised Fire Marshal Investigation

Here are quotations from the Fire Department’s report:

Deputy Fire Marshal Ron Parvin was notified about the fire at 10:21 am.  He was told "the situation" at Summer Street "was not safe or secured."

"The suspect had been detained and fire suppression operations began at 13:30 hours.  I contacted Detective Curt Abel and Jeff Gordon and they needed to gather their resources for the fire investigation and for the fire department to not start until they returned since this was a criminal investigation."

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Parvin), Pg. 2 of 2, Bates 00337.

Note that the Fire Department could not start its investigation until the police gathered "their resources" because the investigation the Fire Department was about to conduct "was a criminal investigation."  If the origin of a fire is "criminal" that fire is by definition arson.

So before the Fire Department started its investigation, it had already accepted a foregone conclusion: the fire was the result of arson.

Also note that this Fire Department investigation could not start until Detectives Abel and Gordon were ready for it to start.

Enter The Ingenue

Ron Parvin goes on to state:

"At 13:40 hours I requested the assistance of DFM Poet … It was determined DFM Poet would assume lead investigator duties …"

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Parvin), Pg. 2 of 2, Bates 00337.

An ingenue is an innocent or unsophisticated young woman.

In this case, the ingenue is Deputy Fire Marshall Sarah Poet, who was assigned the task of conducting the fire investigation.  Now let us see what DFM Poet said in her report: As indicated by Ron Parvin, her mentors were Detectives Abel and Gordon:

"I arrived on scene at 14:08 hours and contacted DFM Parvin and BC2, Ty Gunesch at the command post.  BC2 informed me that the fire was in the basement of the house and several holes were burned in the living room floor …"

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 4 of 12, Bates 00327.

Thus we see from the outset, DFM Poet was informed that "the fire was the basement," despite contradicting eyewitness reports.

"I walked over and contacted Salem Police Detectives Det. Curt Abel and Jeff Gordon.  I briefed with Det. Abel and Det. Gordon and was informed this was a criminal investigation, police had obtained a search warrant and I was the cause origin and origin investigator under their direction." [Emphasis added.]

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 4 of 12, Bates 00327.

How can you have an independent investigation of an event when the investigator is not independent?  You can’t.  So here it is, in DFM Poet’s own words.  She will investigate under the direction of the police.  And a "criminal investigation" of a fire is tantamount to stating the fire was arson.  The purpose of this investigation was to reach a foregone conclusion.  In other words, the conclusion of the investigation was established before the investigation began.

"Police Documentation" in the Basement

Now let’s continue with the words of DFM Poet:

"I stayed on scene investigating until 18:00 hours and suspended the investigation due to ongoing police documentation in the basement."

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 4 of 12, Bates 00327.

What kind of "police documentation" could be going on in the basement, such that the fire marshal would have to suspend her investigation?

Investigation Continued Under Police Supervision

Now let’s continue with the words of DFM Poet:

"At 07:42 hours on January 23rd, I returned to the scene with Salem Police Detectives Curt Abel and Jeff Gordon to continue the fire investigation.  The scene had been secured all night by Salem Police Department."

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 4 of 12, Bates 00327.

So once again, DFM Poet "investigated" in the presence of two policemen.  DFM Poet writes no more about the morning's activities but tells what happened in the afternoon.

Police Told Fire Marshal that Police Did Not Cause Fire

"The afternoon of January 29th, I reviewed video footage … with Detective Abel at Salem Police Department.  I also spoke with Sgt. Riddle, DFM Parvin and Det. Abel regarding the 'cold canisters' (tear gas) used during the incident.  I was informed there was no risk of a fire starting as a result of tear gas being fired into the house per Salem Police Department.  For additional information and video documentation, refer to Salem Police Department evidence and reports."

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 4 of 12, Bates 00327.

Saddle Burns

In this excerpt from DFM Poet’s report, she refers to a "saddle burn."

"A saddle burn (2) on the top of the beam running east and west at the ceiling in the air was observed and can be attributed to the influence of the fresh air vent."

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 7 of 12, Bates 00330.

Footnote 2 contains the following text—a quotation from the National Fire Protection Association:

(2) 6.3.712 Saddle Burns.  Saddle burns are distinctive U- or saddle-shaped patterns that area [sic] sometimes found on the top edges of floor joists.  They are caused by a fire burning downward through the floor above the affected joist.  [Emphasis added.]  Saddle burns display deep charring, and the fire patterns are highly localized and gently curved.  They also may be created by radiant heat from a burning material in close proximity to the floor, including materials that may melt and burn on the floor (e.g., polyurethane foam).  Ventilation caused by floor openings may also contribute to the development of these patterns.  (National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 921, Guide for Fire & Explosion Investigations, 2017 Edition.

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 8 of 12, Bates 00331.

Poet's report includes a photograph of the saddle burn.  Photo #43 is identified as SMF201901220025.  The caption reads:

"Support beam and burn hole for the living room taken from the basement looking south.  Saddle burn on the top of the beam."

But DFM Poet ignored the finding of the National Fire Protection Association — which clearly states saddle burns are caused by burning material on a floor from above… she attributed the saddle burn in 1050 Summer Street to the "influence of a fresh air vent."

Source: Salem Fire Department Fire Investigation Report (DFM Poet), Pg. 8 of 12, Bates 00331.

Deputy Fire Marshall Ignored Eye Witness Reports

*Nonetheless, Det. Abel went on to say:

"DFM Poet determined that the fire originated in the basement, within the centermost compartment on the west side of the basement and that the cause was incendiary in nature.  See her origin-and-cause fire investigation report packet for further details."

Source: Incident Supplement, Det. Curtis Abel, Pg. 7 of 10, Bates 00319.

Miraculous Self-Extinguishing Fire

Oddly, the Salem Police flash alert system reported at sometime after 1:20 in the afternoon that fire suppression had not been necessary; the fire went out by itself.

"During the standoff, Ketchem started a fire in the residence and the Salem Fire Department was called to the scene; however, the flames self-extinguished."

Source: Salem Police Dept. News via FlashAlert.Net, Salem, Ore. January 22, 2019 (cached).

"During the standoff, Ketchem started a fire in the residence and the Salem Fire Department was called to the scene; however, the flames self-extinguished." (source)

Source: Salem Police Dept. News via FlashAlert.Net, Salem, Ore. January 22, 2019 (cached).

This strongly suggests that the fire had never reached self-sustaining intensity on the materials of the house.  Yes, there was a fire in the house, but no, it was not a "house fire."  It was only the burning of incendiaries in the form of grenades.  When that fuel was consumed, the fires went out and "self-extinguished."

What Started the Fire?  A Lighter?

DFM Poet wrote:

"Unknown specific device but a portable heat source such as a lighter was most likely used."

Source: Fire Investigation Report, Pg. 8 of 12, Bates 00331.

We point out to our readers that DFM Poet had only a vague notion of where the fire started and how it started.  Her conclusion contradicted the available evidence, including witness reports, the saddle burns, the grenade ordnance that Ofc. Able removed before the inspection, and the timing of events.

Ignoring all those things, DFM Poet decided the fire was started by "a lighter"—not a match, mind you, but a lighter.  Could it have been the same BIC lighter that the police allegedly and conveniently found in the debris under the deck?  Wow.  It all fits together, doesn't it?

Source: Salem Police Department Property Report, Pg. 7 of 15, Bates 00415.

Mrs. Graves Speaks Her Truth

Det. Curtis Abel reported concerning his visit with Mrs. Graves and her husband:

At one point Mrs. Graves exited their nearby vehicle and moved toward me shouting: "You burned my fucking house down and you killed my cat!" as she purposely approached me with balled up fists as though she intended to strike or attack me.  As I was in plain clothes and had not had an opportunity to introduce myself I was unsure of her knowledge of my role in the event.  I put up my hands defensively and told her, "Ma'am, I'm a police officer."  She seemed unfazed and replied by screaming, "That's what I'm talking about!"

Source: Incident Supplement, Det. Curtis Abel, Pg. 9 of 10, Bates 00321