Firefighters and Police Officers In Small Town Targeted In String of Arsons
Arsons In Cotton Plant Target Police And Firefighters
Cotton Plant, AR – Personal vehicles, an emergency van, a home purchased for the fire chief’s mother, and a fire set inside the police department appear to be targeted attacks against police officers and firefighters in the small Arkansas town of Cotton Plant.
According to The Baxter Bulletin, the incidents began in February, when arson destroyed a female firefighter’s rental home.
Other firefighters have reported incidents where their personal vehicles and an emergency van were vandalized. Tires have been flattened and windows have been broken out.
The most recent incident occurred on Sunday, May 21, when an intentional fire was set at a home that Fire Chief Jason Johnston bought for his mother. He bought the home, which was totally destroyed, after his father passed away, according to The Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
The Fire Chief said that he was “numb” when he responded to the fire. He said, “I was hurt. When I saw it I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ I called for mutual aid to put the fire out. I was too sick to fight it myself.’ His mother was not yet living there but boxes of ‘old photographs, memorabilia, and old papers’ were destroyed.
Mayor Willard Ryland said that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into a string of burglaries when the fire at the police department was set on May 10. Gasoline was used to set the fire, and a computer and a box of criminal investigation reports were destroyed in that fire. The mayor said, “They were trying to destroy evidence.”
Apparently there was some tension in 2016 after the Mayor fired Johnston as the Fire Chief, but he was later re-instated. Some firefighters quit after Johnston returned to work.
Fire Chief Johnston said that talk in the town is that a firefighter is responsible for setting the fires. Accusations recently began appearing on Facebook and other social media. He said that he took a polygraph and passed, and had asked his firefighters to take one as well. He said that all of them did, and all of them passed.
Each fire is being treated as ‘suspicious in origin.’ Local police have asked the Arkansas State Bureau of Investigation to take over the investigation. There are no suspects. Police Chief Ritchie Haggans said that the investigation is ongoing.