Investigators detail evidence that led to arson arrest of former Md. police chief

An arson fire in Laurel, Maryland, in early March 2019 had stumped Prince George’s County police and fire investigators, so they made the security video public.

It wasn’t until January 2020 that Christopher Moe, an investigator with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, watched the video, and when he did, a few things looked familiar.

“I said to myself, ‘That surely looks like the person in my video’” from a 2017 fire in Clarksburg, Moe said at a news conference Thursday.

He contacted Prince George’s County, and they began to work together. By the time they were done pulling threads on Wednesday, David Crawford, 69, a former Prince George’s County police major and former police chief in Laurel and District Heights, was arrested and charged in a string of a dozen fires in four Maryland counties between 2011 and 2020.

That was “the break in the case,” said Prince George’s County Battalion Chief Shajahan Jagtiani.

Crawford is being held without bond in Howard County. He’s charged with 28 counts of attempted murder, arson and other charges in Prince George’s, Montgomery, Howard and Frederick counties.

David Crawford has been charged in a dozen arson fires stretching over nine years. (Courtesy Prince George’s County Police Department)

Police and fire investigators at Thursday’s news conference said they searched Crawford’s house in Ellicott City in January. They found “a large number of electronic items” that connected Crawford to the fires, said Prince George’s County police Lt. Thomas Smith, including a “target list” of people at whose homes fires had been set and a history of Google Maps searches for directions to the houses.

They also said they found Apple Health data on Crawford’s phone that indicated he was up and moving about at the times the fires were set. All but one of the fires were set in the predawn hours; the investigators said the phone didn’t indicate he was up in those hours on other nights.

Court documents say many of the victims were referred to in terms that referenced Crawford’s relationship with them.

Among the victims was Martin Flemion, who was deputy city administrator in Laurel when Crawford was police chief; Richard McLaughlin, who took over as chief when Crawford was asked to resign in 2010; and a retired Prince George’s County deputy chief who recommended someone other than Crawford to succeed him.

Crawford also allegedly set fires at the house of a woman who several months previously had removed his wife from a volunteer position after she was offended by the use of the term “white privilege.” He also is charged with setting a fire at the house shared by his former chiropractors.

Crawford’s stepson was victimized by fires three times — twice at one house, then again at the house he moved to afterward.

The investigators wouldn’t say whether they had any evidence that Crawford was planning to set more fires. The last one he’s charged with was last November. He’s also a suspect in a Charles County fire, but hasn’t been charged yet.

The attempted murder charges stem from the fact that the people inside the houses were asleep, fire investigators said. In one case, Frederick County Fire Chief Tom Coe said, the residents were alerted to the fire by someone who just happened to be driving by.

That “could have set the stage for a catastrophic outcome,” Coe said.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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