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Arson charges against freelancer dropped by prosecutors

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    News Media Update         CALIFORNIA         Newsgathering         April 20, 2005    

Arson charges against freelancer dropped by prosecutors

  • A freelance cameraman’s legal battle against allegations that he set a 5,100-acre fire ended Monday when prosecutors dropped charges.

April 20, 2005 — Prosecutors dismissed arson charges against a freelance news cameraman Monday, ending a nearly two-year legal battle that included seven months in jail.

Los Angeles County prosecutors dropped charges against Joshua Harville, who was accused of setting ablaze 5,100 acres of land, which destroyed four homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in September 2002. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that the judge granted a motion from prosecutors to drop the charges “in the interest of justice.” Prosecutors decided to dismiss the charges after reviewing the evidence, the paper reported.

Monday’s court action came in a retrial held after a jury acquitted Harville on four charges, but deadlocked on two others, in a March 2004 trial.

Harville had served seven months in prison before the verdict. He was arrested after more than five hours of questioning by police, triggered by Harville’s discovery of a tracking device on his car that he initially believed was a bomb, Harville’s attorney Alan Baum said in an interview.

“I think they just figured . . . let’s just arrest him,” Baum said. “It wasn’t like they were building a case that all of a sudden . . . reached a point where they had a reasonable basis for arresting him.”

Harville was suspected of setting the fire because he shot early footage of the fire and because his wife’s car resembled one parked near where the fire started, the Daily News reported.

“Very early there was an attitude towards Josh because he was there very quickly and was the first reporter to actually get video of this fire,” Baum said.

Harville, frustrated by the slow resolution of the case, said: “I think it’s unfortunate that I was targeted for doing my job well and I think that’s the reason why I was targeted. I was very proficient at my job and . . . in the investigator’s eyes apparently that made me a suspicious party.”

During the retrial, the prosecution initially alleged that Harville started a second, smaller fire the same day near the initial fire, according to Baum. “We got an expert who re-evaluated all of the data and prepared a report with an opinion that this second fire was in fact a spot fire and not a separate ignition,” said Baum. “We gave the [district attorney] that report and that tipped the scale.”

Harville is considering legal action against county prosecutors, he said. “We are still working out our options there, but it’s more than likely [a suit] will be filed,” he said.

“I’m just glad that me and my family can move on and that it’s not hanging over our heads,” said Harville.

(California v. Harville; Media Counsel: Alan Baum, Criminal Defense Associates, Woodland Hills, Calif.)AB

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