Emails confirm top Homeland Security leaders knew of concerns over Flora fire investigation

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Top leaders at the Indiana Department of Homeland Security knew there were serious questions about the findings into the Flora fire investigation early on, but failed to respond to the serious claims or to share them with Indiana State Police Investigators handling the case.

The confirmation comes in newly released emails from IDHS as part of a public records request made by 13 Investigates.

The records show a string of emails exchanged between IDHS Director Bryan Langley, State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson and the agency's attorney Jonathan Whitham.

It all started on February 8, eleven days after IDHS fire investigator Dennis Randle put out a press release saying the Flora Fire that killed four sisters on November 21, 2016 was intentionally set. Keyana Davis, 11; Keyara Phillips, 9; Kerriele McDonald, 7; and Konnie Welch, 5 all died as a result of that fire.

"Investigators determined the fire to be incendiary after accelerants were found in several locations of the structure," Randle said in a press release.

13 Investigates learned the release was sent out without the knowledge of the Indiana State Police, the Carroll County Prosecutor and staffers at IDHS.

Randle's claim of multiple accelerants found at the fire scene prompted the lead investigator for an insurance company to fire off a scathing email to Director Langley and Todd Trent, the Assistant Flora Fire Chief.

13 Investigates obtained a copy of the email and first reported its contents on June 19.

In the email, the Certified Fire Investigator from Michigan told Langley and Trent, "The conclusions of their investigation are NOT CORRECT, and completely based on speculation and NOT evidence."

He went on to say "The press release statement about 'accelerants' being discovered in 'several' locations is absolutely NOT based on any evidence discovered at the scene during the investigation; and the investigator Dennis Randle was not performing a proper Origin & Cause Investigation based on the current procedures."

The investigator provided seven pages of his professional credentials and asked for a meeting. He also called Randle's release "unfortunate" and "potentially a grave injustice for the four little girls that perished in the fire."

The next day, Langley forwarded the scathing email on to Greeson, the State Fire Marshal, and Whitham. The emails showing what Langley said as part of the exchange were blacked out, as was Greeson's short response.

A week later on February 15, 2017, the fire investigator followed up with a second email. He mentioned not getting any response after leaving "two recorded voicemails" about the Flora fire. The second email was sent to Greeson, Dennis Randle and eight other IDHS fire investigators.

"The half-attempt of a proper origin and cause investigation by Dennis Randle truly needs your immediate attention," he wrote.

"I am not trying to cast a bad image about the division; just trying to correct the problem crated by one individual. Please give this matter immediate attention,” he added.

Based on the emails provided to 13 Investigates, Director Langley forwarded the email on to Whitham, the agency's attorney, the next day. What Langley said to him is being kept secret by the agency. The paragraph is again blacked out. Less than 10 minutes after Langley forwarded the email, Whitham responds to him and Greeson. His words are also blacked out.

In the newly released emails, IDHS provided no evidence of any response to the investigator raising questions.

TIMELINE

  • Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 9 p.m.: Private fire investigator emails concerns about IDHS press release to IDHS director and the Flora Fire Department's assistant chief.
  • Thursday, Feb. 9 at 3:23 p.m.: IDHS's executive director forwards the email to Indiana's state fire marshal and IDHS general counsel
  • Thursday, Feb. 9 at 3:46 p.m.: The State Fire Marshal sends a brief reply to IDHS' executive director and general counsel
  • Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 9:56 p.m.: Private fire investigator sends a follow-up email after receiving no response. That second email was sent to the state fire marshal, Flora Fire Department's lead arson investigator, IDHS' executive director and eight other IDHS employees.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 10:17 p.m.: IDHS' executive director forwards the new email to the agency's general counsel.
  • Thursday, Feb. 16 at 12:42 p.m.: IDHS executive director forwards new email to the agency's general counsel. This may have been sent to others as well.
  • Thursday, Feb. 16 at 12:51 p.m.: IDHS general counsel replies to the agency's executive director and Indiana's state fire marshal.

Months later, 13 Investigates showed its copies of the investigator's concerns to both Robert Ives, the Carroll County Prosecutor; and Doug Carter, the Indiana State Police Superintendent. Both of them were caught off-guard by the emails and the alleged problems with Randle's findings.

"I don't know about this but I'll find out," Carter told 13 Investigates in May.

"I've never seen this letter before," Ives told 13 Investigates.

One week after Carter vowed to get to the bottom of the emails and the concerns raised about multiple accelerants, Dennis Randle resigned his job at the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

13 Investigates asked Director Langley twice why he failed to respond to the serious nature of the concerns raised about the Flora Fire investigation. He avoided answering the question directly but said, "Well I can explain that those processes-- what we're doing moving forward with the State Police is being addressed. The State Police is doing a great job. I'm thankful to have their leadership in this."

ORIGINAL INVESTIGATORS REPLACED

The initial investigators from both State Police and IDHS have since been replaced.

IDHS Fire Investigator Tim Murray replaced Dennis Randle. ISP Det. Gregg Edwards, who was on the case for the first six months, transferred to another position.

Edwards had run into Randle before. In 2014, Jean Ann Randle, Dennis Randle's wife, admitted to stealing thousands of dollars from the attorney she worked for in Carroll County. Edwards worked on that case against Jean Ann Randle. In fact, he deposed Dennis Randle to determine if he knew about the stolen money. There was no proof he was aware of his wife's activities. Dennis Randle served as the Carroll County Sheriff before taking his current position at IDHS in January 2012 as an arson investigator.

Superintendent Carter said Edwards' transfer had nothing to do with a possible conflict of interest stemming from the 2014 investigation.

"Does it mean they'll be best friends? Probably not, but I don't know the answer to that question," Carter said, adding that Edwards is a consummate professional. He then referred 13 Investigates to Greeson, who refused to respond.

Brock Russell from ISP's Lafayette Post is now in charge of State Police's role in the Flora fire investigation.

Carroll County Prosecutor Robert Ives has asked State Police to refrain from talking about the case.

A $5,000 reward is still being offered to anyone with information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible for the fire.