In November 2016, a Kent, Washington Dollar Tree store burned to the ground and two nearby businesses were heavily damaged. The fire took seventy-three firefighters to fight the blaze. Police arrested Des Moines 66-year-old resident Linda Poplawski and charged her with first-degree felony arson after a Dollar Tree employee told police that Poplawski had threatened to burn down the store moments before the fire broke out, though investigators found no eyewitnesses who saw Poplawski start the fire.
Poplawski spent one month in jail and then eight months on house arrest while her attorney built her defense. The charges against her were dropped in August 2017 when her attorney produced two reports to the court, one of which involved a possible second suspect. Her defense attorney also argued that not producing the report about the second suspect violated Brady vs. Maryland, a landmark 1963 ruling by the United States Supreme Court that requires the prosecution to turn over all evidence that might exonerate a defendant.
Poplawski filed a civil rights lawsuit over being falsely accused and charged with arson against the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority and its lead fire investigator, Captain Eric Pederson. Poplawski's lawsuit claimed that Pederson willfully withheld evidence of the second suspect in the case, a known gang member and convicted arsonist called “Coconut.”
On the day of the fire, a witness called the Kent Police Department to say that “Coconut” had admitted to starting the fire to distract employees from the fact that he was shoplifting. Poplawski's lawsuit claims that Pederson ignored this report and did little to confirm the Dollar Tree store's cashier's claim about Poplawski threatening to burn down the store. Other Dollar Tree employees told defense investigators that Poplawski was a regular and well-liked customer, and she was also one of the first customers to report the fire when it broke out.
On October 23, 2019, Poplawski agreed to drop the lawsuit against the fire department and Pederson in exchange for a $100,000 settlement.
Arson Charges in Washington
In Washington, arson in the first degree is a class A felony. By its definition, RCW 9A.48.020 states
(1) A person is guilty of arson in the first degree if he or she knowingly and maliciously:
(a) Causes a fire or explosion which is manifestly dangerous to any human life, including firefighters; or
(b) Causes a fire or explosion which damages a dwelling; or
(c) Causes a fire or explosion in any building in which there shall be at the time a human being who is not a participant in the crime
Poplawski was lucky enough to have a skilled defense team who worked tirelessly to exonerate her from the false charges against her.
Defense Attorney Steve Karimi
If you have been falsely charged with a crime, no matter how big or how small, you deserve your own skilled team of attorneys who are willing to go the distance to prove your innocence. The Law Offices of Steve Karimi are here to help you. Once a former prosecutor, Steve Karimi understands how “the other side” works. Call him today at 206-621-8777 or fill out a contact form to get started on your free consultation.