D.A. Wants City Gagged on Arson Fire Response

Why would a city's report on the performance of its police and firefighters in responding to an arson fire in a shopping mall—one that went from a modest blaze to a huge one when the building's sprinklers were turned off—be so damaging to the suspect's fair trial rights that city officials and employees must be gagged?

The Sacramento Bee reports the status after Tuesday's hearing on the gag order sought by the district attorney's office.

A prosecutor argued Tuesday that the contents of a Roseville report into how police and fire officials handled the Oct. 21 Westfield Galleria fire are so explosive that making it public would prevent him from finding an impartial jury.

Senior Deputy District Attorney David Broady asked Placer Superior Court Judge Larry Gaddis to issue a broad gag order in the case that would extend to the Roseville report on the police standoff and fire that ultimately did $55 million in damage to the regional shopping mall.

The Roseville report is expected to shed light on why the sprinkler system inside the mall was turned off during the blaze and who ordered it. The city had planned to release the report this week but held off after the gag order was requested in the criminal arson case.

Gaddis said he would rule on the matter Thursday or Friday.

The Bee is formally opposing the gag order. In court Tuesday, attorney Charity Kenyon, who is representing The Bee, argued that the proposed order is excessively broad, would be excessively long-standing and did not meet legal standards.

Johnny Griffin III, who is representing arson suspect Alexander Piggee. also argued forcefully against a gag order.

"Even if the 1,800 pages (of discovery) I've received at this point were made public, I believe Mr. Piggee could still get a fair trial," Griffin said. "We do not need a gag order."

Broady said his interest is to make sure a prospective jury isn't tainted by shoddy reporting about the city's report.

Prosecutors have received two draft versions of the report and got the first one Dec. 2. In Tuesday's hearing, Roseville city spokeswoman Megan McPherson was called to testify about its contents.

MacPherson described in general terms what the report covers. She said the District Attorney's Office did not offer notes or comments on the various drafts.

She said the city delayed the report under the advice of the city attorney—even though no gag order was in place.

Gaddis said he received prosecutors' latest filing, which argues against release of the materials, around midday Tuesday and would need time to review it.

Piggee, who was in court Tuesday, is accused of setting the Oct. 21 blaze, but criminal proceedings have been suspended while his mental competency is evaluated.

A doctor's report is expected to be completed by Jan. 21, with a hearing on it set for Feb. 8.

Griffin also asked the court to provide him with a copy of the city's report on the public safety response, and that matter was expected to be discussed further Tuesday afternoon.

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