The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday issued a ruling to reverse previously suppressed evidence in the case of Bradley Todd Clark, a Fort Lewis College professor accused of arson at City Market in October.
According to the ruling, Clark’s attorneys, the Whitney & Schowalter Law Firm, requested a conversation between Clark and Durango police be suppressed, arguing he was not advised of his Miranda rights.
The Durango-based firm declined to comment for this story.
On Jan. 9, La Plata County Judge Suzanne Carlson agreed with Clark’s attorneys, and suppressed the conversation. Prosecutors with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, however, petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court.
On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court sided with the District Attorney’s Office, reversing Carlson’s ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s opinion is a testament to the quality of the Durango Police Department,” said Deputy District Attorney-Appellate Sean Murray. “The community is fortunate to have such wonderful public servants.”
Eric Hogue, 6th Judicial District court administrator, who comments on behalf of local judges, said he had not yet reviewed the decision and had no comment.
According to court documents, authorities received a report around 8 p.m. Oct. 5 of a fire at City Market, located at 6 Town Plaza, that originated in aisle 7, where investigators determined a bag of tortilla chips were set ablaze.
The fire caused the sprinkler system to go off and ruin food and other products, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damages. No one was injured during the small blaze, which burned for a short time and was contained to the chip aisle.
After reviewing security cameras, a male suspect was identified alone in the aisle at the time the fire was ignited. The man left the aisle, and about 43 seconds later, a witness came upon the chip bags burning.
The suspect then went and purchased several items. Investigators tied the purchases to Clark. The next day, officers went to execute a search warrant at Clark’s home around 10:30 p.m.
Court documents show Clark answered the door, and initially agreed to help officers locate items included in the search warrant. He told officers he had been to City Market three times Oct. 5, the last of which was around 7:30 p.m.
Officers questioned Clark more about his last trip, but “Clark never responded to this question, nor did he respond directly to other questions asked of him,” the court document says.
An investigator with the Durango Police Department asked Clark to step outside while officers carried out the search warrant. Clark agreed, saying he wanted to get out of earshot of his children who were home at the time.
While outside, Clark continued to refuse to talk about his last trip to City Market. At first, he denied knowing about the incident, but then admitted to being in City Market when the fire alarms went off, but didn’t know what triggered it.
Clark then said he did know about the fire because he read about it online, and he and his wife “joked about it.” The police investigator told Clark that based on security footage, he was a suspect.
“The detective finally told Clark that he ‘was not going to play this game’ and advised Clark that he was under arrest for the arson at City Market,” the court ruling says.
Clark said “What? Are you kidding me?” and “I mean, this is insane. It’s insane” as he was arrested, and he asked law enforcement if his students were playing a joke on him, court documents show.
Clark’s attorneys argued that statements made once he went outside his house with the detective should be suppressed because he wasn’t read his Miranda rights, even though he wasn’t formally arrested at the time.
Judge Carlson ultimately agreed, saying, “No reasonable person would think that they had not been deprived of their freedom at the point where they would have to go outside in their underwear without their shoes on.”
The District Attorney’s Office, however, argued that Clark hadn’t been formally arrested, so the reading of his Miranda rights was not required. He wasn’t handcuffed or restrained in any way. And, Clark had agreed to step outside for more privacy with the investigator.
After he was arrested, court documents show, Clark was not asked any more questions.
Clark was ultimately charged with attempt to commit first-degree arson, second-degree arson and criminal mischief. He pleaded not guilty on Oct. 31, but his case has been on hold as the Supreme Court sought to make its determination.
Murray said the District Court now has jurisdiction again as the Supreme Court has issued a mandate sending the case back.
As of Monday, no court dates had been set for Clark.
A spokeswoman with Fort Lewis College said Clark remains on administrative leave.