Nearly three years after a fire destroyed a popular Pasadena bar, sending cooks, bartenders and servers looking for work and injuring an Anne Arundel firefighter, federal prosecutors said Wednesday they know why it happened.
A guy wanted to destroy surveillance tape of him assaulting his girlfriend, so he burned the place down, an Assistant U.S. Attorney wrote in a court motion.
“While the building was destroyed in the fire, fortunately, the video was not, and the video of the assault is quite damning,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Judson Mihok wrote in a motion filed Wednesday morning.
Jamie Clemons, 35, was indicted in September and remains jailed pending a July trial on federal arson charges for torching Coconut Charlie’s, which never reopened.
Clemons has pleaded not guilty and his attorney, Howard Cardin, said his client plans to fight the charges.
“The presumed — or manufactured — motive is just irrelevant, and does not create any reason to believe that he would have or did commit the arson,” Cardin said in an interview.
The fire broke out in the early hours of July 27, 2017 at the bar, located in the 9100 block of Fort Smallwood Road. About 70 firefighters responded to the blaze, and one of them was knocked off his ladder in a backdraft, sustaining minor burns, according to the federal motion.
The building was completely destroyed and had to be razed.
On the roof and exterior patio, investigators found the remains of multiple plastic cups filled with gasoline with wicks that had been set on fire. They also found a pink gardening glove, which prosecutors say was soaked in gasoline — and contained Clemons’ DNA.
A week before the fire, Clemons had been charged with assault related to an incident involving his girlfriend on the bar’s patio. An Anne Arundel County police officer witnessed the alleged assault and chased Clemons.
A search warrant for Clemons’ phone revealed a text message that he sent on July 26, which read: "Yea they’ll probably get the video I’ll be f----- more bs from f------ drinking [sic] told if I don’t stop I’m gonna get n trouble.”
Someone else sent Clemons a text that read: “So he has zero proof then SMFH u got this he ain’t getting far with those bogus charges…just the tape is all he has and [Victim] can say u were kidding or something and she didn’t press charges so that’s good.”
Mihok wrote the surveillance footage shows Clemons grabbing and shoving the woman.
The evidence is laid out in a motion in which prosecutors seek to admit evidence of domestic abuse allegations against Clemons prior to the assault at the bar, all of which occurred between 2005 and 2010.
Clemons pleaded guilty in May 2018 to the domestic assault at Coconut Charlie’s and was given a suspended sentence of three years in jail.
Clemons was not charged with arson until September 2019, when he was indicted by a grand jury. He faces a mandatory minimum of seven years in prison if convicted. His trial is scheduled for July.
In a previous motion to admit expert witnesses, prosecutors said the pink gardening glove contained a mixture of two DNA profiles, one of which matches Clemons.
Cardin said “there’s a number of issues” with the DNA, and he will present his own expert witnesses.
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Clemons’ attorneys have been seeking to have him released from the Correctional Treatment Facility in Washington, D.C., where he is being held pending the trial. The facility has reported several cases of the coronavirus.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Gesner denied the request.
“While the court is concerned for the defendant, and for all others both inside and outside of the detention facility, these concerns alone are insufficient to trigger the release of an individual who this Court has determined poses a threat to the safety of the community,” Gesner wrote.
Anne Arundel County Police said in 2017 that they estimated the cost of the damage to Coconut Charlie’s to be $200,000.
Owner Chris Welsh could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. Prior to Clemons being charged, Welsh had offered a $10,000 reward in addition to $5,000 being offered by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In 2018, Welsh vowed to reopen, which has not yet occurred.
“Today is a day that we knew would come and good things come to those who are patient!” he posted on the bar’s Facebook page when the grand jury indictment was handed up.