MADERA COUNTY – Last week, testimony in the prelimanry hearing of Kenneth Jackson and Allison Waterman turned to the evening of their arrest on charges of arson and conspiracy.
Cal Fire investigators had been tracking the couple’s vehicles and monitoring video cameras installed throughout the Yosemite Lakes Park area for several weeks leading up to the husband and wife being taken into custody on June 25.
They had also assigned personnel to conduct fixed surveillance in the area of East Revis Circle near the Jackson/Waterman residence.
Fire Captain Specialist David LaClair took the stand and told the court that he was conducting surveillance in the area of East Revis Circle on June 25 and in the days leading up to the arrest.
“I was watching vehicles, foot traffic, bicycles, any type of movement in the area,” said LaClair, who said he was watching from behind the home just north of the Jackson/Waterman residence.
LaClair said he heard Jackson’s pickup leave the area around 2:30 p.m and return at 3:21 p.m., just before a fire was reported on Road 400, a few miles away.
At about 6:30 p.m., LaClair said he heard a crackling sound, moved from his position and saw a large column of smoke coming from behind the couple’s house. He then tied in with the other officer doing surveillance and they both observed Waterman walking casually up the driveway towards them, looking back at the smoke. As the sound of approaching sirens were heard, LaClair said Waterman turned and shouted “Fire! Fire! Fire!” and ran back down the driveway.
LaClair said he and his surveillance partner Lopez walked down to the cul de sac where Jackson and Waterman were by then being detained by Cal Fire officers.
“She immediately told me she didn’t do it. She said she wasn’t an arsonist, but that she couldn’t answer for Jackson,” said LaClair. He also testified that Waterman told him she had all the fires near her house numbered.
Assistant Chief William Andersen took the stand to testify about the evening of the arrest. Andersen said he had received a request to release equipment to support the investigation, since the fire activity had escalated, and now exceeded the resources in Chief Quinn’s unit.
Andersen said he was responsible for the day-to-day operation, evaluating information and assigning duties to the officers working the investigation. He also monitored the tracking devices on the suspects’ vehicles.
After the June 25 fire on Road 400, Chief Andersen said the team was developing an incident action plan to affect the arrest of Jackson and Waterman.
“We had information that Jackson had a concealed weapons permit, and that Waterman may have access to weapons,” he told the court. “But due to the enormous amount of fires being lit in populated areas, I had to balance the worth of the evidence we could gather versus the public safety.”
Andersen said they knew they could gather additional evidence with the tracker data, but made the decision to arrest the couple.
As firefighters worked to suppress the latest fire on East Revis Circle, four Cal Fire law enforcement officers approached Jackson, who was standing behind his house with a garden hose near the fire. Several prosecution witnesses had testified that a large area behind the suspects’ house and those of their neighbors had been blackened in the preceding weeks, and there wasn’t much vegetation left.
The officers approached Jackson, pulled their weapons and told him to get on the ground, said Andersen.
“We told him to get on the ground and show us his hands, but he refused to comply,” said Andersen. After repeated orders to “get on the ground,” Andersen said he went to holster his gun with his right hand, and reached for Jackson with his left, at which point he says Jackson pushed him in the chest with both hands, knocking him off balance. He said Jackson then turned and started down the slope.
Andersen testified that the officers then took Jackson to the ground, and he continued to resist, refusing to put his hands behind his back.
After taking him into custody, Andersen said he put Jackson in the front seat of his vehicle and read him his rights, which he waived and agreed to talk. After driving him along the route they had tracked him through earlier that day when the fire on Road 400 broke out, Andersen said he took Jackson to the Sheriff Substation for an interview.
Andersen testified that he had the tracker up on the computer screen, and that Jackson told him he had thrown a cigarette butt out the window, and indicated on the computer screen an area that was known by investigators to be the area of origin of the Road 400 fire.
“I told him we knew he did it, and that’s when he asked for a lawyer,” said Andersen.
Chief Bernie Quinn took the stand for last few minutes of the day on Friday, and was asked how many fires had burned in the area since the arrests.
There were vehement objections to the question by the defense, pointing out that the designation “area” was vague. The area was then narrowed down to that land contained within the boundaries of Road 400, Roads 415 and 416, and Highway 41.
Quinn then answered that since June 25, there had been two fires in the area. One was caused by a weedeater, and one was arson. “There is a suspect who is currently under investigation,” said Quinn.
The defense will get a chance to explore that interesting twist when they present their own witnesses in this seemingly endless process.
Throughout the testimony, defense attorneys have been passionate advocates for their clients, pointing out inconsistencies and errors in reports filed by officials.
In one report, investigator LaClair stated that the person he had seen walking up the driveway near his surveillance location on June 14 was of undetermined gender, and estimated their weight at 180 lbs. Waterman is a small woman who, LaClair said when asked to estimate in court, looked to weigh about 110-120 lbs.
Defense attorney Craig Collins has frequently questioned the validity of the “exclusion analysis” used to determine that these fires were arson.
“If you exclude a lightning-caused fire because you saw no lightning in the area, why don’t you exclude arson because you saw no one light the fire?” he asked.
Waterman’s attorney Greg Gross questioned Chief Gilbert about an individual the witness characterized as “a juvenile, mid-teens” who had been taking credit for the fires on Facebook. Gilbert said that any involvement by this person in the fires was dismissed because the juvenile lived in the Raymond area.
Gross also questioned why Waterman walking in the area could not be construed as patrolling the neighborhood looking for suspicious activity, since there had been so many fires in the area, and that having a record of them would be normal behavior for someone living so close to the incidents.
There were also reports of teens on BMX bikes and a pickup that drove up the driveway at the vacant house where the June 14 fire started, and the defense questioned why those details were not followed up on more diligently.
Testimony resumed on Monday, Oct. 21, before Judge Dale Blea in Department 2 at Madera Superior Court. The prosecution appears to be nearing the end of their witness list, and the defense will then begin their case.
In the meantime, Jackson and Waterman remain behind bars on $1,000,000 and $500,000 bonds respectively.
(Read Part I of this report GPS Tracking And Video At Arson Hearing)