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A team of Detroit arson investigators with guns drawn arrested a popular fire videographer Sunday night on a felony charge stemming from a citizen’s arrest he made on an arsonist earlier this month.
Shortly after 10 p.m., officers surrounded and handcuffed Alex Haggart and a friend just after they arrived to document a commercial building fire at the border of Hamtramck and Detroit on the eve of Devil’s Night, the notorious period of arson on the night before Halloween.
“Hands! Hands! Hands!” an arson investigator shouted at Haggart, a contributor to Motor City Muckraker. “Let me see your hands!”
Haggart’s friend, who is a photojournalist, was detained in handcuffs for about an hour, even though he was not accused of a crime. He was questioned and later released.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office authorized a felony arrest warrant that alleges Haggart, 36, was carrying a gun with an expired concealed pistol license when he tried to make a citizen’s arrest earlier this month after catching a woman setting fire to a commercial building at Whittier and Lakepointe on Detroit’s east side.
In a live video posted briefly on Facebook, Haggart can be heard saying he held the arsonist at gunpoint for about 10 minutes and had an expired CPL. Under Michigan law, carrying a firearm with an expired CPL is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
In late September, the Republican-led Michigan House passed a bill 82-26 that would reduce penalties for carrying a concealed firearm with an expired CPL to a $330 fine from a felony. The measure is awaiting a vote in the state Senate.
Haggart’s arrest comes less than a week after arson investigators raided Haggart’s home in St. Clair Shores and seized his car, phone, computer, camera, drone, scanners and even his children’s electronic tablets.
The Fire Department’s handling of the case has unleashed a firestorm of criticism and claims that fire officials were heavy handed and retaliatory. A week before the raid, Haggart exposed Deputy Detroit Fire Chief Robert Shinske for violating department policy for using a city vehicle to visit a Dearborn bar. Haggart also tipped us off about a suspected serial arsonist who was on the loose on the east side this month.
Haggart, who less than two hours before his arrest streamed a live video of four vacant houses on fire on Frederick near East Grand Boulevard, was taken to the Detroit Detention Center and is expected to be charged Monday.
It’s not yet clear whether Haggart will be charged for allegedly holding the arsonist at gunpoint. Under Michigan law, residents are allowed to make a citizen’s arrest “if the person to be arrested has committed a felony.” Since arson is a felony, prosecutors would need to prove Haggart had a gun and lacked reasonable suspicion that the arsonist posed a serious threat to anyone.
Haggart told me he feared the building was occupied, wanted to minimize the danger to firefighters and worried the arsonist would set another fire.
On a Periscope video Sunday afternoon, Haggart addressed the allegations against him and explained that he had the support of many firefighters, some of whom have questioned the motive behind the raid.
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Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.