Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge will decide in the next month whether to throw out a police interview during which a Utah electrician admitted to setting an unfinished apartment building on fire.
Dustin Bowman, 34, of Bountiful, was not informed of his Miranda rights when meeting with federal investigators days after the Feb. 9 blaze, his defense attorney argued in court Monday.
The Salt Lake fire caused an estimated $6 million in damage.
Attorney Jamie Zenger said Bowman was intimidated by officers and indicated he didn't want to accompany them to the site of the fire or to a law enforcement building afterward, where he was interviewed for four hours.
She argued the interview, including Bowman's admission to starting the fire, should be suppressed.
Prosecutors said Bowman, who had worked on the under-construction building, offered to help investigators and told them during the interview that he knew he was free to leave or stop talking.
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart did not rule on the issue Monday but has 30 days to decide. Stewart told attorneys that Bowman had a "fairly strong" argument that he wasn't properly warned of his rights at that meeting.
Investigators initially made a "feeble attempt" to warn Bowman, Stewart said, though they later gave Bowman a full warning and had him sign a statement acknowledging it.
Bowman has pleaded not guilty to a federal arson charge.
He appeared in court Monday handcuffed with his wrists shackled at his waist. His hair was slicked back and he wore a gray and white striped jail jumpsuit.
Prosecutors have said Bowman admitted to going to the under-construction apartment complex the night of the fire to smoke spice, a synthetic form of marijuana. After initial denials, he admitted to starting the fire by igniting cardboard and tossing it into a bathtub leaning against a wood wall, investigators said.
Court records show that when asked about his motive, Bowman said: "Maybe I wanted to see the fire department."
No one was inside or injured in the nighttime fire at the 64,000-square-foot apartment building that was under construction at 540 E. 500 South. The fire caused an estimated $6 million in damage. Flames from the 40-foot-tall building could be seen for miles and drew hundreds of onlookers.
Bowman initially met investigators days after while accompanying his boss, another electrician, who was asked to review surveillance video that appeared to show Bowman at the construction site.
Assistant U.S. attorney Drew Yeates noted that Bowman texted a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Bowman asked to meet up and explain why he appeared to be on the surveillance video, Yeates said.
Bowman was not physically detained, repeatedly told investigators he wanted to help and told them he understood he could leave, Yeates said.
The initial warning was incomplete and "not ideal," Yeates said, but a reasonable person in Bowman's situation would know they were not under arrest.
"This was not a situation," he said, "where law enforcement was trying to cheat."
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