News

Suspected Palo Alto arsonist arrested Saturday

Man believed to be the person seen on surveillance footage

A man who allegedly started four small fires near downtown Palo Alto late last week has been arrested, police said today.

The suspected arsonist, a 23-year-old Palo Alto resident, is accused of starting the fires that spanned roughly between 2 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on Friday, police said.

The man was arrested Saturday around 9 p.m. near the 600 block of Urban Lane, where an officer on routine patrol saw he resembled the person seen on surveillance footage near one of the four fires, according to police. He was arrested without incident.

The first blaze was reported at about 2 a.m. at the Caltrain parking lot in the 600 block of Urban Lane, where police and firefighters found an empty vehicle on fire, police said.

Police dispatch responded to a second fire in the 100 block of Palo Alto Avenue, where responding crews found flames in a dumpster, police said.

The last two fires happened around 5:30 a.m. Officers and firefighters were sent to the 500 block of High Street, where they found a small pile of smoldering ash in a dumpster area at a parking garge, police said. While there, they were informed of a small brush fire nearby south of the Homer Avenue tunnel, police said.

No injuries were reported in each fire that were all quickly extinguished, according to police. (See a map displaying where the fires happened here.)

Investigators secured surveillance footage that showed a man walking in the area minutes before the Palo Alto Avenue fire began and considered him a person of interest, police said.

The 23-year-old man has been booked into Santa Clara County jail, according to police.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to paloalto@tipnow.org or sent by text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the police free mobile app, downloadable at bit.ly/PAPD-AppStore or bit.ly/PAPD-GooglePlay.

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Editor's note: The Weekly has chosen to withhold the name of the arrested until the case is adjudicated and if there is news value in reporting the information at that time.

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Comments

34 people like this
Posted by Carlos H
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2017 at 10:17 am

The suspect is 23 years old. Why not disclose his identity and booking photo?


8 people like this
Posted by nah
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2017 at 10:24 am

Identity and booking photo are published here:

Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by Carlos H
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2017 at 10:40 am

Ok, thanks for the link @nah.

In previous PAOnline articles I've seen a mix of disclosing the suspect's identity/booking photo and keeping it rather mum, as it is in this article. I wonder if there's any official guidelines to this, or is it simply at the author's discretion? Does it have to do with the severity of the crime?


Like this comment
Posted by nah
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2017 at 11:05 am

My guess is that the article was initially written in response to this press release from the PAPD:

Web Link

That includes the security footage, but not the booking photo or name, and contains language very similar to that in the article.

Subsequently, after the suspect was caught, the PAPD issued another press release:

Web Link

This includes the name of the suspect and both the booking photo and the security camera image.

This probably triggered some revision of the article, to reflect new information, but, reporters having other things to do, didn't cause the inclusion of the name or booking photo.

Of course, all this is just a guess: I'd expect the author of the article to be able to say more.


1 person likes this
Posted by nah
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2017 at 11:06 am

Ok, looks like the PAPD has decided to intentionally withhold the name and photo from publication, even though the PAPD has published them and other news outlets are running with it:

> Editor's note: The Weekly has chosen to withhold the name of the arrested until the case is adjudicated and if there is news value in reporting the information at that time.


7 people like this
Posted by Carlos H
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2017 at 11:13 am

Hmm, so they've decided to not report all of the available information. I'd love to understand the reasoning behind that.

Anyways, thanks for the info @nah.


8 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 31, 2017 at 11:56 am

I'm guessing arson doesn't keep on in prison for very long. He should be put away for life. Someone this unstable who lacks the skills to be a good citizen shouldn't be released back into the streets. Too bad our prisons aren't like North Korea; we'd have less crime. Violent criminals shouldn't have any rights.


1 person likes this
Posted by nah
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2017 at 12:10 pm

For comparison, this is what a strong arson case looks like in Palo Alto:
Web Link

The press releases so far lay out a very weak case against the accused here: video of somebody dressed similarly in the general area, not at a specific site where a fire was lit. Barring a confession or some a forensic tie between the accused and the fires, letting him go free is the right thing to do here.


4 people like this
Posted by Lukasz
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Of course wearing similar clothes and being near the crime scene is not enough to detain... I'm guessing the PA police have some information beyond what was in the press release.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 31, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Perhaps the suspect has a past record.


4 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2017 at 2:55 pm

I'd love to know what this "upstanding citizen's" rap sheet looks like... once a criminal, always a criminal.

Plus one to the Palo Altan who said: "He should be put away for life. Someone this unstable who lacks the skills to be a good citizen shouldn't be released back into the streets."

Citation (for those that don't believe the "once a criminal, always a criminal" statement): Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Mark Silverman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 31, 2017 at 3:11 pm

If the alleged arsonist is eventually diagnosed as a pyromaniac then certain mental and emotional issues come into play. Now is a mentally ill person responsible for his actions? Usually not in a court of law. Should he be incarcerated or institutionalized? That is for the court to decide.

As far as 'once a criminal, always a criminal', there are too many loose ends at this point to make this observance a permanent assumption.

According to many shrinks, childhood environment and parent-child relationships play an active role in an adult's mental perspectives. One of the reasons why so many of them ask their patients, "Did you love your mother?'. If the answer is no or seemingly ambivalent, there is some potential for a socio/psychopathic behavior.

There are countless Norman Bates running around and they don't all wear signs on their chests.




Like this comment
Posted by M. Driscoll
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 31, 2017 at 3:25 pm

It's all about location/location/location. The suspect was obviously selecting the wrong sites to start his fires.

Had he been a barbeque pitmaster or a crematorium worker, things would have been different. As it stands, he was randomly destroying public/private property. Thus he is an arsonist.

Now the question remains. Are arsonists considered sane individuals? This factor will go a long ways in determining the sentencing phase.




4 people like this
Posted by duveneck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 31, 2017 at 5:02 pm

A photo and ID were released on today's Nextdoor Duveneck-St. Francis web site. To me, the image caught on a security camera looks nothing like the mug shot of the suspect. In fact, so much so that I'm wondering why this person was arrested.


2 people like this
Posted by Paul ingles
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2017 at 5:19 pm

@duveneck, the released footage photo isn't exactly high-resolution. like @Lukasz said, perhaps PAPD acted on some information not included in their press release?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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