Homeless man again cited for arson fires

Jacob Marshall Sherman, 33, admitted to a detective on March 24 that he started a fire in a men’s restroom March 13 in a building near the Renton Community Center, according to the Renton Police Department.

Renton Police detectives used security footage from the downtown transit center, Liberty Park and the Renton Community Center to trace the movements of an arson suspect, who was ultimately cited with second-degree reckless burning.

Jacob Marshall Sherman, 33, admitted to a detective on March 24 that he started a fire in a men’s restroom March 13 in a building near the Renton Community Center, according to the Renton Police Department.

Sherman has been linked to other small fires in Renton, including last year at the city’s 200 Mill Avenue building for which he was cited with second-degree reckless burning, a gross misdemeanor.

All but 90 days of a 364-day jail term were suspended at his sentencing on June 26, with the stipulation some or all of those days could be reinstated if he’s convicted of another crime.

In an interview with detectives after his arrest, Sherman couldn’t explain why he set the fires but he did say he needed some kind of help, according to the police report.

The Police Department’s case report lists an address for Sherman at a mobile-home park in the Highlands, but he’s also described as homeless.

Renton Fire Marshal Anjela St. John said the city would consider Sherman to be a serial arsonist because of fires he was cited for last year and the fires this year. “The behaviors are the same,” she said, including starting fires with easily accessible garbage and refuse.

Fires downtown stopped in January after fliers were handed out to draw attention to them, including in residential areas, and to not leave out garbage that could provide fuel for fires, she said. The fires resumed in March, when city buildings were targeted, she said.

“Between January and March, we have seven fires that we believe he is connected to,” she said, referring to Sherman.

It’s a concern that such fires could escalate to larger ones, she said, but there’s not scientific evidence to support that. She said fire officials hope that Sherman will get some kind of help if he’s jailed.

Sherman was arrested early afternoon on March 24, after detectives found him inside a tent underneath the Renton Library. They also recognized the bike next to the tent from security footage, according to the police report.

Sherman was booked into the SCORE regional jail, initially for investigation of third-degree malicious mischief, and arraigned later. As of March 29, he was still at SCORE on $260,000 bond, according to the facility’s website.

In his interview with detectives on March 24, Sherman took responsibility for two fires that occurred just hours before his arrest, according to the police report.

One fire was set in a Dumpster at about 3:15 a.m. at 101 S. Second St. in downtown Renton. An officer talked to a man on a bike who matched Sherman’s description while waiting for fire crews to arrive.

The second fire was set next to a water-well building near the Renton Community Center at about 7:30 a.m. Police learned several fires had been set near the water-well building in the past.

A city employee told officers that had the fire spread to the building, the public was at risk because of chemicals inside and water service could be disrupted, according to the police report, which also noted the water facility is federally protected under the Department of Homeland Security.

Sherman was cited with second-degree reckless burning for each fire.

Renton investigators investigated three fires March 13 near the Renton Community Center, 1717 Maple Valley Highway, in the men’s and women’s restrooms in a building separate from the community center and one that damaged a plastic drainage cap outside the building.

Investigators determined that someone set fire to paper in a trash can in the men’s restroom, causing no damage. Paper was set afire atop a toilet seat in the women’s restroom. The seat was damaged but the paper fell into the water before significant damage was done. Leaves and bark were stuffed under plastic grate to start a fire, which caused about $200 damage before it went out on its own.

Sherman came to investigators’ minds because of similarities to earlier fires he had set and similar physical descriptions; they still had to place him at the scene of fires at the community center and elsewhere.

Over the next several days, Renton Police detectives viewed security videotape from Liberty Park, the city-owned 200 Mill Building, the Renton Community Center and the parking garage at the Metro Transit Center.

Video shows a man arrive at the men’s restroom at 10:53 a.m. March 13, then leave at 12:01 p.m. Another man entering the bathroom at 12:23 a.m. is met with smoke and flags down a city employee.

The detective back tracks the first man to Liberty Park and Mill Avenue South, where he comes from the river bank, gets on a bike, rides through Liberty Park and then to the community center to the building where the fire started, according to the police report.

But investigators still needed more evidence. Detectives were able to develop probable cause to arrest Sherman with the help of video March 15 that shows a man with paper wadded up in his hands in the transit center garage. Also discovered was as graffiti, “SNAP,” which is a tag investigators reported is used by Sherman.