GREENBELT - One of the men accused of setting fires at an upscale housing development in southern Maryland made racist and threatening comments about blacks moving into the homes and was angry that the "neighborhood is going black," according to court documents made public yesterday.
The allegations about Aaron L. Speed, who worked as a security guard at the Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head, emerged from an interview with another man charged in the fires, Jeremy D. Parady. The interview was detailed in search warrant affidavits unsealed in federal court.
Speed and Parady are among six men charged with arson in the Dec. 6 fires that caused $10 million in damage to dozens of homes in various stages of construction. Many of the residents slated to move into the development were black.
Investigators are probing race as a possible motive, but the men are not charged with federal hate crimes. Other possible motives are revenge and a bid for attention by the suspects.
According to Parady, Speed used racial epithets in various conversations before the fires, telling Parady once that he was mad that blacks were moving to Charles County. The once-rural county is rapidly becoming a suburb of Washington.
One of Speed's twin infant sons died last year. Speed allegedly told Parady that when the child died, the first medical technician to arrive on the scene was black, and that he didn't think the EMT did enough to help his child. Using a racist epithet, he later said all blacks "have to die" and that he would do something "to get everyone," according to Parady.
Speed saw homeowners visit the work sites and knew their races, Parady said in the interview. Speed told Parady, "We know the houses we're looking for," referring to the ones owned by blacks, the court records state.
John Chamble, Speed's public defender, would not comment on the alleged statements. Parady is the only person in the documents who says that Speed made racist comments, and none of the other suspects corroborate his accusations, according to authorities.
A law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that investigators have found little else pointing to race as a major motivation.
"I am not aware of anything further being developed to show it [the crime] is racial in nature," the source said.
Parady's attorney, Tim Sullivan, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
The affidavits were filed last month as authorities searched the homes, computers and vehicles of the suspects. Among the items they were looking for was evidence of affiliation with racist groups.
Search warrant returns filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt list computer equipment and notebooks among the items seized from the suspects, but do not specify whether any racist paraphernalia was recovered.
Authorities believe the six men bonded around a mutual interest in street racing and Chevrolet Cavalier cars, referring to themselves as "the Family." One of them, Patrick Walsh, plotted the fires last summer, saying he wanted to make the family bigger and more famous, according to court documents.
According to investigators, the group went to the development early Dec. 6, kicked in the doors of the homes under construction, poured liquid accelerant on the floor and lit it on fire. At least 10 homes were destroyed and several more seriously damaged.
The affidavits state that another suspect, Michael Gilbert, told investigators that he had "Southern pride" but wasn't a member of a racist group. Asked his opinion on slavery in the Old South, Gilbert said "everything was going OK" and then said, "I support life in the South back then," according to the documents.