A 24-year-old South St. Paul man was arrested last week and charged with setting a wildfire at Kaposia Landing Park.
Chad Steven Johnson is charged with felony wildfire arson, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
According to the criminal complaint, police were called to the 1000 block of Bryant Avenue in South St. Paul on July 31 when someone reported a man trying to set the grass on fire. The person who called said the suspect was seen running across the bridge toward Concord Street, and described him as a shirtless white man, wearing blue jeans and carrying a black backpack.
Police spoke to the witness, who told them he was jogging on a regional trail when he saw some small flames in the woods just off the trail. He said the suspect was standing close by, but when he saw the jogger, he ran toward the bridge.
The jogger chased Johnson and asked what he was doing. Johnson “mumbled something” unintelligible, and walked away, according to the complaint.
Police identified Johnson as the suspect and went to his home. A shirtless Johnson answered the door, and police asked him if he’d been at Kaposia Landing Park earlier in the evening. “I didn’t light the fire,” Johnson responded, according to the complaint.
Officers brought the witness to Johnson’s apartment, and he identified Johnson as the man he had seen trying to light the fire.
Johnson was arrested and put in the back of a squad car. He told police that he had been sleeping; when officers asked him why he had brought up the fire without being asked specifically about them, Johnson replied, “I’m very good at communicating without speaking,” according to the complaint.
Johnson told police that someone was trying to “set him up” for the arson, but he couldn’t identify the person, and he denied being at Kaposia Landing Park earlier in the day, the complaint says.
Police offered to lock up Johnson’s apartment before they took him to jail. In their search for his keys, they found a pair of blue jeans on the bedroom floor, along with a backpack. They found Johnson’s keys in the pocket of the jeans, along with a lighter.
Johnson remains in the Dakota County Jail on a $25,000 bond. An omnibus hearing in his case is scheduled Aug. 28 in Dakota County District Court in Hastings.