The fires in Alameda this weekend affected many Alamedans. Being less than a block away from one of them, my bedroom was filled with the smell of smoke for most of Sunday. We were lucky, but still shocked that this happened so close.
After reading many articles, I’m starting to get the feeling that that Alameda Police may have arrested an innocent man.
Let’s consider the facts as reported by the media concerning the arrest of Stephen Petersen.
Petersen, 27, is a well-liked musician who hosts an open mike night in Alameda , and is a graduate of San Francisco State University, according to his friends.
“He’s always talked about nonviolence. It’s absolutely out of character,” said Shayna Butler, Petersen’s girlfriend.
Friends say Petersen is the lead guitarist for a local band called “Whistlin Past the Graveyard.”
They say he’s helped organize fundraisers for victims of drunk driving and women’s rights.
“He’s very into his community and helping people so this is the exact opposite of something he would do,” Zack Bateman.
“This is completely out of character,” co worker Justin Vanegas said.
Friends say Petersen was in the area of the fires because he lives nearby and was walking home from work.
“Me and another co-worker left at around 2:05. He left a little bit before us,” says James Bulman, who works as security at Rooster’s Roadhouse.
Justin Vanegas, 29, another musician in the Alameda scene, said he is one of Petersen’s closest friends. The two trade off doing sound engineering at Rooster’s Roadhouse on Clement Avenue. On Saturday night, Justin said his friend was working at the bar and got off his shift around 1:30 a.m. before walking home.
————Timeline of events————
The first fire was reported at 12:56 a.m. — a trash bin blaze on the 1300 block of Regent Street that crews quickly extinguished.
Statements from co-workers says he left Rooster’s between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m.
At 1:39 a.m., someone set the back of a two-story home on the 1100 block of Regent ablaze, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage.
Firefighters responded at 2:22 a.m. to the 2200 block of San Antonio Avenue to a residential and vehicle fire that spread to another residence.
Firefighters responded to a vehicle fire at 2:34 a.m. Firefighters said that fire was possibly an extension from the San Antonio Avenue fire.
Stephen was arrested at 2:43 a.m. in front of his apartment, 2xxx Alameda Ave. There is another report he was detained in the 2100 block of San Jose Ave.
————————————————————————————————-At 3:29 a.m., firefighters responded to the 2000 block of Encinal Avenue to a garbage can fire.
At 4:11 a.m. firefighters responded to a three-alarm fire in the 1600 block of Park Street.
Firefighters responded at 4:39 a.m. to the 1500 block of Park Street to a garbage fire.
If Stephen left Rootser’s between 1:30 and 2:00 as at least two of his co-workers have reported, this would make it impossible for him to be at the location of the first two fires, and unlikely to be at the location of the third at 2200 San Antonio. I believe it is possible that as he was walking home on Alameda Ave., he would have heard the sirens and possibly smelled smoke. Perhaps he was curious and walked a block or two from his residence to see what was going on. Perhaps he walked straight home. Due to the conflicting reports we don’t know yet. We do know that his arrest at 2:43 a.m. was prior to at least three of the fires. What we can deduce from this information is that Petersen could not have been at the location of at least 5 (possibly 6) of the fires.
Here are some of the most frequently documented characteristics of arsonists that do not match with Petersen.
Poor academic performance
Antisocial behaviors and other crimes as an adolescent
Lack of stable interpersonal relationships; poor social skills
Poor occupational adjustment; employed in low-paying jobs often as a laborer
Alcoholism and/or substance abuse
The most frequently found disorder among arsonists is an antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial individuals often engage in a range of criminal behaviors including fire-setting as well as other destructive acts. The disorder is characterized by a failure to conform to social norms by repeated acts that are illegal, deceitful, impulsive, and aggressive. Such individuals are frequently referred to as psychopaths. They have a reckless disregard for the safety of self or others. They show no remorse for harm caused to others. Most repeat psychopathic arsonists also abuse alcohol and/or drugs, and dramatically increased their usage right before the fire-setting.
This doesn’t match with the 27 year old, university graduate, employed sound technician, folk guitarist, who refrains from using drugs or alcohol and has a girlfriend.
———– Andrew Gutierrez————
There’s not much reported about him so far. All I can find is that he is a 22 year old transient known to frequent Alameda and Oakland. There is a report that he was arrested near one of the fires. I cannot find reports of the time or exact location of his arrest. There is a surveillance video from the parking lot behind the 1600 block of Park St. that allegedly shows Gutierrez at the scene of the fire, then running away shortly before smoke is seen rising. I can’t identify the grainy image in the video, but authorities are saying it’s him.
In conclusion, I think there is a chance that the arrest of Stephen Petersen may be a mistake. According to Lt. Jill Ottaviano, “Both men were arrested separately and they were in close proximity to the arsons,” This is the only evidence ,other than the video that allegedly shows Gutierrez, that police are saying links the suspects to the crimes. More information is needed.