At least a dozen fire chiefs from Southeastern Massachusetts plan to appear in Plymouth Superior Court on Friday to express their discontent with a judge’s decision to offer short sentences to an alleged arsonist and his accomplice, says one of the chiefs.
Timothy Grenno, Whitman’s fire chief, said the plea bargain Judge Carol Ball offered the two men earlier this week is a slap in the face to the investigators who worked on the case.
“We are disgusted with this,” Grenno said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “We’re not going to change the judge’s mind tomorrow, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We just want to take a stand.”
Mark Sargent, who was charged in three arson cases, would serve up to three years in state prison under the plea bargain, which was announced in court Tuesday. He allegedly started fires at an unoccupied Scituate vacation home, a Marshfield marina, and a West Bridgewater building that was under construction. His stepson Jeanmarie Louis, who was charged in the West Bridgewater fire, would serve up to 2½ years in a house of correction.
Prosecutors had urged Ball to sentence Sargent to up to 12 years in prison and Louis to four to six years. Ball said the sentencing guidelines suggested that the shorter sentences were appropriate.
After the deal was announced, Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said he was outraged.
“Arson is not a victimless crime, and a series of arsons creates an understandable fear that robs people of feeling secure in their own homes, where they should feel safest,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “Arson fires take a toll on our firefighters and are the type of fires that cause the most firefighter injuries. Arson fires tear at the very fabric of a community.”
At least six firefighters suffered minor injuries while battling the fires in Plymouth, Bristol, Norfolk, and Barnstable counties.
Sargent, 46, and Louis, 24, of Middleborough were arrested after State Police assigned to the fire marshal’s office investigated 30 suspicious fires at commercial or unoccupied structures in Southeastern Massachusetts.
Fourteen of those fires occurred in Plymouth County, where Sargent and Louis were charged, said Bridget Norton Middleton, spokeswoman for the Plymouth district attorney.
The remaining incidents are still under investigation, and charges may be forthcoming, said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state fire marshal.
The arsons stopped after Sargent and Louis were arrested, Mieth said.
“The citizens of Plymouth and adjoining counties spent months in terror, wondering if their town or their house or business or fishing boat would be the next target,” Grenno said in a statement released Wednesday. “Every firefighter in the county wondered each night if their town would be targeted next.”
Representatives from the Fire Chiefs Association of Plymouth County plan to appear in the courtroom during Friday’s sentencing hearing to show support, said Grenno, who serves as the group’s president.
Grenno said he and his counterparts want to thank investigators who worked on the cases.
“They put it a lot of good hard work, some of the best work I’ve seen,” Grenno said. “And now these men are being charged like they shoplifted. It’s not right.”