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Alpine firefighter arrested for arson following recent bushfires – The Big Bend Sentinel

Brewster officials refuse to release public documents, not engage in speculation about downtown fire 07-11

David Matthew Neet Facebook photo

ALPINE — Brewster County sheriff’s deputies arrested an Alpine volunteer firefighter and a longtime emergency medical technician Friday, charging him in connection with a series of recent bushfires in the Alpine area. David Matthew Neet, 44, of Alpine was charged Saturday with 20 counts of arson, a second-degree felony, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said.

“During the investigation into the fire, several incendiary devices were recovered,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post about the arrest. The post noted that Neet is a “volunteer Alpine Firefighter and a member of 1st Response EMS” — which provides non-emergency medical transport. The post also mentioned working with the Texas A&M Forest Service on the case and praised Deputy Hector Holguin “for his hard work and dedication to this investigation.”

“We’ve been studying this for a long time,” Dodson said. Big Bend Ranger Saturday. “These fires have been going on for over two years. We’ve just started getting leads and using our new technology to try to figure this out.” Dodson said six or seven of the fires are believed to be arson-related. The sheriff said the case is still under investigation and declined to provide details on how the suspect was identified or what new technology was deployed.

Neet’s Facebook page lists his past work experience, including “emergency services” with Terlingua Fire and EMS from October 2020 to September 2021, as well as various positions with emergency medical services agencies and companies throughout Texas. He also lists work in “civil affairs” with the Texas Military Department.

As of Wednesday morning, Neet remained in the Brewster County Jail on $300,000 bail. Big Bend Ranger on Saturday, subpoenaed documents in the case — affidavits relating to probable cause for Neet’s arrest warrant — and any affidavits relating to the search warrant, if any existed. Sheriff Dodson and District Judge Greg Henington initially agreed to release the documents, which are court records and considered public information under Texas law.

But in a 180-degree turn Monday morning, Brewster County Deputy Chief Ryan Skelton said: The guard that the sheriff’s office would not release more information than it posted on its Facebook page early Saturday morning. After speaking with Henington Saturday and sending a text message Monday, he initially agreed to share the statements, but stopped responding to requests for comment and had not released the statements by press time. The statements are supposed to be available for public inspection under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure — the statements provide additional details about the arrests.

Former Alpine Fire Chief Andrew Pierce — who served until June 30 — said he learned of the arrest right when it happened. “I was surprised that it was one of my guys because we keep the department so tightly knit and focused on building each other up and making it a place to go,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m prepared to fully cooperate with law enforcement and provide them with whatever they need to fully prosecute this case.”

While many Alpine residents have taken to social media to speculate whether the arsons were connected to the massive downtown fire on Holland Avenue, officials have not indicated they are connected. Sheriff Dodson, Chief Deputy Skelton, Henington County Judge and Justice of the Peace Susana Gonzales have not responded to questions about whether any evidence has been found linking Neet to the downtown fire.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Gonzales said she signed a probable cause affidavit Saturday and also entered a judgment against Neet. But she said she did not keep copies of any of the documents and did not know it was her responsibility to keep them in her office for “immediate” public review. “I’m not trying to hide anything,” she said. “I just don’t think I have copies.” Gonzales did not respond to a request for the documents or comment Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Undersheriff Skelton made it clear he would not release the documents because it could jeopardize the case.

“We have newly elected justices of the peace who require so much detail in the affidavits that the affidavits and our deputies now have a habit of disclosing so much detail because of these requirements, we simply cannot explain how the elements of the law were met, we must disclose the details of the investigation to satisfy the new justices of the peace,” Skelton said in an email. “In this case, the affidavit contains very detailed information about the investigation that did not need to be disclosed to the public because it could corrupt and contaminate the prosecution in the case and especially the limited number of jurors.”

Skelton also commented on his disclosure of “basic information” in the arrest report and jail and bond information, which is a separate provision of Texas law under the Public Information Act. “I invoked the exception rule that led to the disclosure of ‘basic information’ as required. I also visited with the prosecutor(s) involved in the case, and they agreed with the decision and specifically instructed me not to disclose anything more than ‘basic information.’”

District Attorney Ori White’s office would be the “prosecutor” in Neet’s case. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment via phone and email about whether he instructed law enforcement and judges to assist in violating open records laws.The guard also contacted Freedom of Information Foundation Texas attorney Bill Aleshire, an expert in open records law, who confirmed that the statements are clearly public records with very few exceptions to their disclosure. Brewster County District 1 Magistrate Judge Scott Wasserman agreed, saying that the magistrates had no choice in the matter but to make them available for public inspection.