Det. Joe Rios of the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division said that parts of the homeless man's claims do not appear to be true, including that a Los Angeles Fire Department truck responded to a 911 call and put out the fire, which he said had engulfed his wheelchair and possessions.
Rios said the LAPD and LAFD have no record of the alleged incident, and that the LAPD is not actively seeking any suspects unless something new comes to light.
"I told him, I said, 'I totally believe you, but there’s no record of it whatsoever that the fire department was out here. They don’t have records at all. The two fire stations here don't,'" Rios said. "And I said, 'I got a printout from our LAPD dispatch this morning and there was no such  call.' He says, 'All I know is someone called and the fire department showed up.'"
When contacted by Eagle Rock Patch, LAFD Sr. Arson Investigator David Lisky confirmed that the LAFD had no record of a call to the Eagle Rock Library on Sept. 29 about a man suffering burns, or any similar call at the location.
The details of the homeless man's claims were posted in a blog on Highland Park-Mt. Washington Patch on Sunday—with Rebecca Prine of Recycled Resources for the Homeless, a Highland Park-based homeless advocacy group, outlining the homeless man's story.
Rios said he met with the homeless man, identified as "John," on Thursday at the library, and that his story was essentially the same as it was represented in the blog post, which was that three young men with shaved heads doused him with flammable liquid and lit him on fire on Sept. 29 around 9 p.m. while he was sleeping in his wheelchair at 5027 Caspar Ave.
John said the young men, aged 18-25, laughed and ran away. John also said he peeled off multiple layers of his clothes as they burned, and that a LAFD truck showed up and doused the remaining flames, but that he refused medical treatment and the truck drove away. The fire "was so strong that the vinyl seat in his wheelchair completely melted and his belongings are all a loss," according to the blog post. The post included a short video of John's back that clearly showed he had suffered burns in multiple areas on his back.
Rios said he wanted to inspect John's wheelchair and burnt clothes, but that John told him he didn't know where his wheelchair or burnt clothes were. John can walk, Rios said, but he uses a wheelchair sometimes.
"Of course, seven days later he makes a report, his wheelchair is missing and his clothing are missing. So that physical evidence is no longer," Rios said.
What Rios said he did conclude was that John was definitely burnt and injured at some point, and a fire did happen on the library's sidewalk at some point. Rios had told Patch on Tuesday that there was no evidence on the ground of a fire at the library. But once he met with John on Thursday, Rios said John showed him a different area than was detailed in the police report.
"When I met up with the victim, he took me to an entire different area of bike racks, about 40 yards north of the front step's bike racks," Rios said. "When he pointed it out, there was evidence of fire there, I could see there was a smoldering fire at one time."
But what John also insisted, Rios said, was that a fire truck from LAFD Fire Station 55 showed up to put the fire out after someone called 911.
"He said he doesn’t remember what happened, that he woke up and remembers seeing [firefighters] around him. And he said that he told them thanks but no thanks I will seek my own medical treatment," Rios said.
Liskey said that if firefighters ever encountered a person who was burned and claimed someone had lit them on fire, it would be normal procedure to inform the LAPD and to inform the LAFD's Arson Investigation Section.
For John's story about a 911 call and fire truck to be true, Rios agreed that multiple layers of the LAPD's and LAFD's emergency procedures would have not been followed properly:
- All 911 calls in the city are initially handled by the LAPD's Communications Division, and any call about a man lit on fire by someone else should have triggered the dispatcher to send an LAPD unit to investigate, but this didn't appear to have happened.
- The LAPD's Communications Division also would have failed to keep a record of the 911 call.
- The LAFD truck crew also would have failed to keep a record of responding to the Eagle Rock Library about a man suffering burns on Sept. 29, and failed to have reported the incident to the LAPD and the LAFD's Arson Investigation Section.
"I told the guy, 'We’re accountable for everything. Your gas mileage, you are accountable for. You’ll get called in on that,'" Rios said.
Rios did stress that he believed John was burned in a fire, based on his injuries, but that the he couldn't conclude when or how he was burned.
"Unfortunately, this case is being considered, I’ve come to a dead end. I’m going to submit my report and it's going to be an open case until someone comes forward with more information on the suspects or the story changes down the line," Rios said. "Basically it’s what I call inactive pending new information."
Rios also said he had ruled out the possibility of it being a "hate" crime, as it was labeled in the blog post, because John said the suspects never spoke or said a word during the incident.