Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Suspicious fire damages Hemet police building in the latest attack on city police [Updated]

June 28, 2010 | 12:01 pm

A suspicious fire that damaged a Hemet Police Department evidence building could be the seventh attack on the law enforcement agency this year.

[Updated, 3 p.m.: The fire was first reported at 2:23 a.m. and severely damaged the building and evidence stored inside. The facility, which is across a parking lot from Hemet’s main police station, stores evidence for pending and past criminal cases, said agency spokesman Lt. Duane Wisehart.

“There’s some pretty significant damage to the roof and other parts of the building,’’ he said. “Inside, there’s evidence from thousands of cases: homicides, rapes, you name it.’’

Firefighters from the Hemet Fire Department quickly extinguished the blaze. Details of how the fire was started were not available. No arrests had been made.]

Investigators believe the fire could be related to a rash of attacks on police in the city. The latest incident only adds to a police department already on edge, and Wisehart said officers have been reminded to remain vigilant and to “be aware of their surroundings at all time.’’

In January, the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force discovered a natural gas line had been diverted into their office, filling it with fumes, although the gas never ignited. A month later, a bobby trap – a Gerry-rigged “zip gun” – fired a bullet at an officer when he opened a security gate.

In March, a suspicious device was attached to a gang enforcement officer’s unmarked vehicle, and two weeks later  four city code-enforcement trucks were torched in the Hemet City Hall parking lot. Attorney General Jerry Brown visited the area that month and, with Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco, offered a $200,000 reward for those responsible for the attacks.

Finally, in June authorities found a vintage military rocket on the roof of a nearby market, pointed in the direction of the police station.

Evidence gathered from those attacks on the police was stored inside the building charred by the suspicious fire, Wisehart said.

Investigators believe those attacks are tied to a white supremacist gang with roots in the area. In May, police arrested a suspected white supremacist gang member – Patrick Nugent Jr., 40 – for possessing an improvised firearm similar to the one used in the booby trap.

Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were called in to assist with the investigation into the suspected arson fire. The FBI and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department also are involved with a task force investigating the attacks.

-- Phil Willon in Riverside