Sheriff Terry Maketa called an admission by the Black Forest fire chief regarding the Black Forest Fire's cause "reckless" and "irresponsible."
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa posted two follow-up statements on his Facebook page addressing his harsh criticism of the Black Forest fire chief and the ongoing Sheriff's Office investigation into the Black Forest Fire.
The following is the full statement from his newest statement Friday morning:
It seems folks are unclear about how the Black Forest fire investigation has been handled from the start. While I am not a firefighter, I am the Fire Warden of El Paso County, per State Statute CRS 30-10-513, titled Sheriff in Charge of Forest or Prairie Fire-Expenses, which affords me the authority to access State Assistance in the event of an emergency such as the Black Forest Fire.
When there is a fire, especially when people are injured, or lives are lost, such as this instance, law enforcement becomes involved, not just firefighters. Firefighters do not have the ability to write warrants, collect evidence, process crime scenes or serve warrants on arrestees. The Sheriff’s Office handles the majority of arson investigations outside the incorporated areas, unless a municipality requests, such as the case in Monument a few weeks ago. Due to the destructiveness of the Black Forest fire and the unfortunate loss of 2 lives, the Sheriff’s Office is the lead agency in investigating the cause of the fire. The Sheriff’s Office arson investigators and Major Crimes Unit have worked closely with national experts at the federal level, as well as specialists in the private sector. These cases can be very complicated, and more important than just finding the cause, is protecting the integrity of an investigation at every step, for possible prosecution. Essentially, the Sheriff’s Office has spared no expense to bring in nationally recognized and credentialed experts to assist us with the full scope of this investigation.
Additionally, throughout the investigative process there is evidence and information that are maintained at a very high level of security to ensure the integrity of the investigation. For example, if an arsonist did start this fire, only he/she would know the exact point of origin, so we would never release the exact location. That way if someone were to confess, we could challenge the integrity of their confession by having them disclose the exact point of origin. Even I don’t know the exact point of origin- don’t want to, and don’t need to, in order to protect the integrity of the case. What is ironic is that I was briefed as recently as yesterday, November 20, on the latest development in the continuing investigation. Although I cannot disclose the newest development, I will state that information does not support the claim made by Chief Harvey.
People have made comparisons to the Waldo Canyon fire, which I would like to point out that CSPD is the lead investigator in that fire, because the deaths occurred within the city limits. They too are operating under a multi-jurisdictional task force.
Today, I presented to the media a copy of Chief Harvey’s resume, which is very thorough and expansive concerning wildland fire, structure fire, fire suppression, fire command and numerous certifications supporting those disciplines. However, on his own resume, he listed no certifications or specifies any qualifications as an arson investigator. For the Chief to carry out his own investigation, to a point, is fine, however, it would do nothing more than plant ideas of the exact cause. It cannot be used to support any type of prosecution; he has collected no evidence, and by his own admission to investigators today, stated he has no specific evidence to present to support his claim. I can assure you he absolutely did know there was an ongoing investigation, as he had shared that with local media representatives, as well as complained regularly that our investigators had not kept him in the loop. As I have stated, for the preservation and integrity of a criminal investigation, he would not have been given intimate details, nor would any other firefighter or non-certified investigator. If he had experience with criminal investigations he would know this. Furthermore, if any individual would like to review documents, records, or even some recordings concerning the claims I have made, I will happily present those, so long as they are not directly and intimately related to the investigation.
It is unfortunate Chief Harvey elected to make the claim he did, and in the manner it was made. The citizens of this community deserve to be presented with timely and accurate, indisputable information that can withstand judicial challenges. I feel that to give information based on personal theories and hunches, lacking scientific evidence and/or eyewitness testimony does nothing more than mislead not only the public, but the victims of this tragedy. I have long said I will always provide information that the law allows just as soon as I possibly and legally can.
I am asked by members of the public several times a week for updates on the progress of the Black Forest fire investigation. I have spoken to hundreds of people in the last week alone, addressing their questions and concerns, which is representative of the interest in this subject. I realize there is a tremendous desire to have answers by those impacted by this fire. I realize it is a part of having closure of a traumatic event, however I will never compromise the integrity of an investigation, nor will I compromise the integrity of facts merely to satisfy a desire to have any answer. I would hope the Fire Chief of Black Forest and his governing body would recognize this as well. I hope this clarifies the confusion many people seem to be commenting under.
Maketa posted the following Thursday afternoon:
I have been committed from the beginning of the Black Forest Fire to seek factual answers and conclusions as to its cause. We knew early in the investigation and informed the public the fire was human caused. Since that time, my investigators as well as local and federal experts in the field of Wildland fire investigation have worked tirelessly to answer the difficult question on whether the fire was intentionally, or accidentally set and by what means. These investigations are tedious and require any conclusions to be grounded in fact and withstand the burden of proof required for a successful prosecution. My Office has always been forthcoming with any releasable information concerning the fire, while balancing and maintaining the integrity of this sensitive investigation. I receive continual updates on the progress of the investigation, and as recently as yesterday morning, have learned of a report currently in draft form and prepared by some of our collaborative experts in the investigation which may provide additional answers. There is no motivation to keep facts from the public and to say otherwise is ridiculous; the same leadership and transparency the community deserved and received throughout the response and management of the fire continues throughout the investigation.
The El Paso County sheriff released a scathing statement Thursday in reaction to the Black Forest fire chief's announcement that the Black Forest Fire was human-caused and "likely intentional."
Referring to Chief Bob Harvey's admission as an "unqualified knee-jerk claim," an "attempt to mislead the public," and a "witch hunt," Sheriff Terry Maketa claimed that Harvey was not involved in the fire investigation and had no business saying what he did.
"Chief Harvey's comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy."
Harvey, however, told 11 News late Wednesday night that he has been working with investigators, and this was the conclusion they had reached over the last few weeks. He said it was a strong possibility that the Black Forest Fire was linked to several small fires that were started in Fox Run Park a month later.
The following is the complete statement released by Maketa:
“Do not buy into Chief Harvey's claims until it's confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn't the case. His comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt. Numerous national experts and federal resources have been involved in this investigation and have not and cannot substantiate Chief Harvey's unqualified knee jerk claims. "Human caused" has been known for a long time but this Chief is not involved in the investigation nor qualified to offer legal and scientific evidence. He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just may be merely covering his own mishandling of this event in an attempt to avoid responsibility for allowing the fire to get out of hand. Furthermore, this Chief didn't even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy. It's an injustice that he has chosen to jump to these unjustified and inconclusive assumptions without any effort to coordinate with local investigative authorities that have expended extensive resources to identify the cause and manner of this serious tragedy. Chief Harvey's comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy.”
Later in an interview with 11 News, Sheriff Maketa gave specific examples, accusing Chief Harvey of refusing to turn over authority to the Sheriff's Office the day of the fire.
"What I witnessed that day was a man who was reluctant and did not delegate it to the Sheriff's Office, not that we're going to do anything special or more than what he did, but except by law that is the process to get state resources and federal resources in," said Maketa.
We also spoke to the incident commander who was on scene when the Black Forest Fire broke out; he claims Harvey declined additional support not once, but twice.
"I have been doing this since 1994 or 1995 and I have never had a fire district, when I asked 'Do you want me to take it?'...deny," said Scott Campbell with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
11 News has made calls to Harvey to get his comment on the new accusations. They have not been returned.