Authorities say the former fire chief of Missouri Valley lied to police about his credentials and the steps he was taking to investigate suspected arsons at two local homes. The Daily NonPareil says Johnnie Walker, the former fire chief, pleaded guilty to providing false information to authorities.
Johnnie Thomas Walker (Harrison Co. Jail photo)
In return, prosecutors dropped a charge of interfering with official acts. Judicial Magistrate Jack White sentenced Walker to a 30-day jail sentence, which was suspended. Walker also was ordered to pay $120 in court costs.
Missouri Valley Police Chief Ed Murray said Walker provided false information to investigators on suspected arsons at two abandoned houses. One of the houses, on the northeast corner of 10th and Granite streets, was set ablaze three times in October. The other house, at 105 W. Superior St., was set on fire on March 7th. According to Murray, during the investigation of the Granite Street fires, Walker said that he was a certified arson investigator when he is not and that state arson investigators wouldn’t investigate such a fire when they would.
On the West Superior fire, he told Murray he had taken samples from the scene to a crime lab in Ames when he had not. He also said he was out of town on the night of the fire when he later said he was at home. Walker has said he was home ill at the time. At one point, Walker was supposed to meet with local and state investigators to discuss the West Superior fire but missed the meeting. Murray called him on his cell phone. Walker told him he was traveling to Ames to deliver samples from the fire to the lab.
But Murray could hear wind blowing in the background. He became suspicious and asked one of his officers to go by Walker’s house. The officer found Walker in his front yard, talking to the chief on the phone, not on the way to Ames. State arson investigator John Ticer said that’s impossible, because there isn’t a lab in Ames to test the samples. That was the first piece of evidence that led them to suspect Walker was not telling the truth.
Asked why Walker had misled him, Murray said he didn’t know and would only be speculating. 19-year old Coty Cates, of Missouri Valley, has pleaded guilty in an agreement with prosecutors to one count of second-degree arson in connection to the Granite Street fires. He received a suspended fine of $1,000, ordered to pay restitution to the victim and placed under drug court supervision for two years. Two other arson charges against Cates in connection to the Granite Street fires were dismissed.
Investigators know of no connection between Walker and Cates. The teen is believed to have acted alone. In addition to the Superior Street blaze, state and local officials continue to investigate several other possible arson fires in the area, including a house at 2279 U.S. Highway 30 that exploded Oct. 27, 2013, and numerous hay bales set ablaze on Oct. 31, 2014.
Anyone with information on the fires is asked to call Missouri Valley police at (712) 642-2736 or Ticer at (712) 308-3977.