Detroit cops request arrest warrant for videographer in citizen’s arrest of arsonist

Detroit police are requesting an arrest warrant for a popular fire videographer who is accused of taking a citizen’s arrest too far by holding an arsonist at gunpoint until cops arrived earlier this month.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing the controversial case to determine whether charges are merited against Alex Haggart, a contributor to Motor City Muckraker and a frequent fire chaser. Police also requested an arrest warrant against the arsonist, who was briefly detained by cops but never jailed.

Under Michigan law, residents are permitted 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 Tuesday, 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.

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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. 

Many firefighters are defending Haggart and question why the arson team would use so many resources, especially at a time when a serial arsonist is on the loose on the east side

“This doesn’t smell right,” one firefighter told me, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal. “We are fighting arsons all day, and yet they (investigators) spend all this time going after Alex?”

The primary evidence against Haggart is a live Periscope video he posted during the citizen’s arrest. The video, which has since been deleted, shows Haggart following the woman in a Jeep as she walks down a sidewalk. Haggard can be heard calling me on his cell phone and complaining that police weren’t showing up, adding, “I already held her at gunpoint for 10 minutes.”

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Screenshot of the now-deleted video that shows Haggart in a Jeep following the arsonist on a sidewalk.

An unidentified passenger in the Jeep said they were recording the video “to protect us in case shit goes completely sideways.”

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When an officer arrived, he declined Haggart’s offer to provide video and photos of the arsonist in the act.

Fire officials declined to comment on the case because it’s still under investigation.

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Steve Neavling

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.