In the days after an arson at south City Market, current and former Fort Lewis College staff are questioning whether their colleague, Brad Clark, who was arrested on suspicion of starting the grocery store blaze, is the culprit of an intentional fire set in 2008 on campus that was never solved by police.
Clark was arrested Oct. 6 in connection with first-degree arson for allegedly setting a bag of tortilla chips on fire the previous night at south City Market in Durango, which activated the sprinklers in the store and caused $200,000 in damages.
The Durango Police Department said Clark was caught on security cameras setting the bag on fire with a lighter. He then went to self-checkout to purchase items, using his personal debit card and City Market value card, while the sprinklers were spraying and people were evacuating the store.
Clark was also arrested in 2007 for arson for starting a dumpster fire, though prosecutors ultimately dropped those charges.
Clark and his attorney, Katie Whitney, did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment for this story.
Clark, an associate professor in the political science department at FLC, has been placed on administrative leave after the City Market incident.
Since his arrest, some FLC staff have called for campus police to reopen the unsolved 2008 fire, which happened a few doors down from Clark’s office in the political science department. The fire was set to the office door of a fellow associate professor with whom Clark had known conflicts.
“It was a terrible thing (the 2008 fire) and people just let it go,” said Kathleen Fine-Dare, an anthropology professor. “But here’s someone with an arson history right down the hall.”
‘Tensions,’ not ‘conflict’FLC police responded to the political science department, located in Noble Hall, around 7:45 p.m. Sept. 28, 2008, for a report of a fire that investigators determined to be intentionally set outside the door of Yohannes Woldemariam, a political science associate professor who is no longer with the school.
According to campus police records obtained through an open records request by The Durango Herald, investigators immediately identified Clark as a possible suspect after then-Dean Linda Schott told investigators of tensions between Clark and Woldemariam.
According to records, Clark was the only person questioned as a suspect in the fire, other than one other person who was working in the building at the time. FLC police were aware of Clark’s 2007 arson arrest, records show.
“I did speak with Professor Brad Clark ... and he seemed nervous when I asked him if he was in Noble Hall on (Sept. 28, 2008),” the investigating officer wrote.
Clark told investigators he was at home with his family at the time the fire started.
Ultimately, there wasn’t enough evidence to make any arrests in the case, said Lauren Savage, spokeswoman for FLC. Campus police have no intention at this time of reopening the case, she said.
But Schott, who is now president of Southern Oregon University, said there might be a link given Clark’s suspected history of arson.
“When I read the story (of his arrest), the question did occur to me,” she said in an interview with the Herald. “Brad was wonderful and energetic ... but people have different lives than we often know on the surface.”
Woldemariam, in an interview with the Herald, said he has long suspected Clark started the fire outside his door.
“I always had, deep down, a suspicion he did it,” he said. “After he was hired, it was hell for me.”
Woldemariam joined FLC in 2005, and Clark was hired the next year. Woldemariam said Clark was constantly disrespectful and tried to undermine him. In one instance, police records show Clark made questionable remarks to students about Woldemariam.
“It was a terrible relationship,” Woldemariam said. “But I never believed he would go that far.”
Clark, for his part, told investigators it was more “tensions” rather than “conflict” between the two, calling the problems “petty.”
Woldemariam said he believes FLC police never fully investigated the arson. Clark’s harassment continued, he says, and along with other issues he had at FLC, Woldemariam said he decided to leave his tenured job in 2015.
A few months before the fire outside his door, someone put derogatory messages, including an image of a swastika, in Woldemariam’s mailbox – another case that was never solved and what Woldemariam, who is black and from East Africa, believed was a hate crime.
“The trauma from that experience (hate mail and arson) – I’m still living with it every day,” he said. “It was a nightmare.”
Reyes Garcia, a philosophy professor who retired from FLC in 2011, said no one took Woldemariam seriously when he would bring up issues with Clark. He said campus police should take another look at the 2008 fire.
“(Woldemariam) was a great teacher, but then this happened with the door, and it was the culmination for him of people at Fort Lewis who did not understand or sympathize with him.” Reyes said. “It is just really tragic. It could have been avoided. The school could have found out what happened.”