Man burns Maryland bar to hide footage of federal assault
36-year-old man accused of throwing more than a dozen flaming plastic cups filled with gasoline at a bar in Maryland to destroy CCTV footage that showed him assaulting his girlfriend has been sentenced to jail .
Jamie Clemons, of Pasadena, Md., Was sentenced to nine years in prison and ordered to pay more than half a million dollars in restitution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland said in a statement on Oct. 29. Clemons pleaded guilty to the malicious destruction of a property by fire in April.
The charges date back to July 28, 2017, when investigators said a fire intentionally destroyed a bar in Pasadena called Coconut Charlie’s. At least one firefighter was injured and the bar closed permanently after the fire.
“Thank you all for your support since 2008. It has been a long road over the past four plus years and justice has been served today,” the bar said in a statement on Facebook after the announcement of the conviction of Clemons.
Defense attorneys representing Clemons did not respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment.
In court documents, Clemons’ attorneys have asked a judge for a reduced sentence. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, they said he had been subjected to “inhuman” treatment at the prison where he had been held since his arrest and that he was battling the abuse of steroids resulting from his premature birth and of its “smaller size”.
A devastating fire
A 911 operator in Anne Arundel County received a call about a fire at Coconut Charlie’s just before 3 a.m. on the day the bar burned down, court documents show. At least 70 firefighters responded to the blaze, one of whom was injured when a backdraft forced him to fall from a ladder, prosecutors said.
A backdraft occurs when a sudden jet of air encounters unburned fuel, causing the flames to explode momentarily.
Disclaimer: The video contains graphic language.
The building was eventually destroyed, and despite initial reconstruction plans, Coconut Charlie never reopened.
An investigation before the site was razed revealed that the fire was intentionally started on the west side of the bar, a judge said in court documents. Cameras outside the building, which survived the blaze, recorded “several flashes of light” before it ignited.
Investigators eventually found 14 plastic cups filled with gasoline and wicks on the roof and around the exterior of the building as well as a “pink gardening glove” that tested positive for gasoline, the judge said.
In the months that followed, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives offered a reward of $ 5,000 for information about the fire, while the owner of Coconut Charlie’s added a reward of $ 10,000.
“I truly believe in karma and for the cowards who did this to me, my family, Charlie’s family and my loyal customers, GOD will punish you!” Coconut Charlie’s wrote on Facebook about three weeks after the fire.
It took two years for investigators to make an arrest in this case.
The pink gardening glove
Prosecutors said Clemons lived about half a mile from Coconut Charlie and was seen assaulting his then girlfriend on the patio a week before the fire started. A police officer witnessed the assault, which was also reportedly recorded on the bar’s surveillance system.
Clemons was charged with assault and theft in Anne Arundel County after the incident. Prosecutors said he received the summons on July 27 – a day before the Coconut Charlie fire.
The surveillance camera that captured the assault was on the west side of the building, where the blaze started, prosecutors said, and the pink gardening glove found at the scene contained Clemons DNA. Investigators also saw text messages on his phone expressing concern about what would happen if police obtained the surveillance footage.
A grand jury indicted Clemons on September 11, 2019, according to court documents. He was arrested the next day and a judge ordered him to remain in detention, citing in part a “substantial history of victim-related offenses” and the weight of the evidence against him.
An indictment charging him with malicious destruction and possession of an unregistered destructive device was filed in February 2020.
Defense attorneys called for the case to be closed at least twice, saying the gasoline-filled plastic cups used by Clemons to start the fire were not considered “destructive devices.” They then said the case should be dismissed due to the unfair delays caused by the pandemic.
A judge dismissed both claims and Clemons pleaded guilty to the malicious destruction charge in April.
“I had made bad choices”
Clemons has asked the court six times to be released from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic – something a judge has denied, court documents show.
After his guilty plea, Clemons’ lawyers requested a five-year prison sentence, saying the steroids contributed significantly to his criminal history, including multiple assault charges.
âJamie Clemons has been using steroids since he was 17,â they said. âThe frequent use of steroids (in fact on a daily basis) explains the number of domestic assaults. The combination of steroid abuse with excessive alcohol consumption gives an even clearer picture and better understanding of the many assaults and driving offenses.
Lawyers have said Clemons started using steroids because he was born prematurely, which Clemons echoed in a letter to the judge on July 6.
In the letter, Clemons apologized for setting Coconut Charlie’s on fire and said “the inhumane conditions of detention made me rethink my life.”
“I know prosecutors have said a lot of ugly things about me, it’s their job to do and I have nothing against them,” Clemons said. âBut, I’m sure you would consider most of the offenses that the government refers to as just domestic disputes, alcohol offenses, theft, all non-violent offenses. My addiction to alcohol and steroids was partly responsible for my aggressive behavior.
“I had made bad choices and bad judgment in my life,” he continued. “I have learned my lesson and I am ready to pay the debt to the company.”
The judge ultimately decided on a nine-year sentence followed by three years of supervised release. Clemons was also ordered to pay $ 560,346 in restitution.