Citing a “lack of confidence” and various investigative errors relating to a high-profile arson case, Peachtree City Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth recently demoted longtime Peachtree City Fire Marshal John Dailey all the way down to firefighter/EMT, with a commensurate 10-step loss in pay.
The question recently posed by Dailey’s legal counsel, Mark Mitchell, was whether Dailey was made a “scapegoat” for a decision made by prosecutors not to proceed with a trial against a Peachtree City couple who was accused of killing the husband’s mother by burning her in her recliner in the basement of the couple’s home.
In a court filing several weeks ago, prosecutors blamed their dropping of the case on the discovery that a crucial piece of evidence, a white sheet with burn patterns on it, was not collected from the scene and preserved for the investigation.
“After the DA’s office was not able to successfully prosecute the case … someone had to take the blame for that, and so John Dailey was thrown under the bus,” Mitchell said in a recent personnel hearing. “It’s suddenly John Dailey’s fault.”
It was noted during testimony in the hearing that a video of the fire aftermath taken as evidence showed another member of the fire department, not Dailey, displaying the sheet so it could be documented on the video.
The district attorney’s case against Scott and Valerie Dahlman hinged largely on forensic evidence and testing that was done in an effort to disprove any potential defense theory on how the fire started, District Attorney Scott Ballard has said previously.
The Dahlmans, until the case was dismissed last month, had been charged with murder in the death of Francis Dahlman, Scott Dahlman’s mother.
Mitchell, Dailey’s attorney, noted that the DA’s office did not consult with Dailey before arresting the Dahlmans.
“You would think someone who played such an important role in the investigation would’ve been consulted before the decision was made to charge the Dahlmans and arrest them,” Mitchell said.
But it wasn’t just the missing white sheet that Dailey was demoted for. In a memo, Fire Chief Eiswerth said Dailey “did not coordinate with local law enforcement and the State Fire Marshal throughout the entire investigation.”
That, however, contradicts a statement in the personnel hearing from the supervising police detective on the case who said she and Dailey coordinated with each other throughout the investigation.
Dailey was also reprimanded for failing to file an arson investigation report, but a Peachtree City fire department employee testified at a personnel hearing that Dailey told him he planned to use his investigative notes at trial instead.
In that same personnel hearing, Police Detective Heather Jones, the lead detective in the arson/murder case, testified that while the chair and other evidence from the fire was initially kept by Dailey, she soon was ordered to have it transferred to police custody. She said that change occurred after it became apparent that Dailey was allowing people to have access to the chair who should not have been allowed to see it at that stage of the investigation.
In his memo, Chief Eiswerth also cites missing memos from two firefighters who responded to the Dahlman home, one of which Det. Jones later testified was “crucial” to the murder-arson case.
Jones said while at the scene she had asked Dailey to provide her with statements and detailed observations from every member of the fire department who worked on the scene.
Eiswerth also noted that Dailey’s fire report on the incident listed the cause as undetermined but the report states nothing to explain how he reached that conclusion.
Investigators for the Georgia Fire Marshals office, which also investigated the fire, continue to contend there is a strong case to prosecute the Dahlmans for arson in connection with the fire.
Dailey has challenged the demotion, and a final decision on the matter is expected in the near future from City Manager Bernie McMullen.