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Alameda Police Silent on Arson Evidence

Friends and supporters of  Stephen Petersen mill outside the courtroom before the hearing, September 30th, 2014. (File photo, Action Alameda News)

Friends and supporters of Stephen Petersen mill outside the courtroom before the hearing, September 30th, 2014. (File photo, Action Alameda News)

Alameda police are declining to disclose any of the evidence they have against Stephen Petersen in connection with his arrest for arson related to three of eight fires that burned early Sunday morning in Alameda, even as Petersen’s supporters step-up their efforts to clear his name.

Petersen’s supporters have launched a Facebook page, “Free Stephen Petersen” that is promoting a fundraising event next week, and they launched a crowd sourcing GoFundMe page to raise money for Petersen’s legal defense, although they reported on the Facebook page earlier today that the campaign was removed, possibly due to references to the Alameda police and fire departments.

Action Alameda News asked Lt. Jill Ottaviano, the public information officer for the Alameda Police Department, to confirm that investigators had identified an eye witness who fingered Petersen for the fires, as reported by KTVU Channel 2 news on Tuesday, said to be sourced from court documents.

Ottaviano responded, “as you know I can’t share with you details of the investigation. Having said that, I can tell you that our officers are objective fact-finders who will follow-up every lead in this case. We are not taking sides, but rather documenting facts. I appreciate that Mr. Petersen has support. I ask that you let the case unfold. If there is something pertinent to the case I can share with you I will contact you.”

Separately, the National Research Council released a new report today called “Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification (2014),” which, according to the Council, “recommends best practices that law enforcement agencies and courts should follow to improve the likelihood that eyewitness identifications used in criminal cases will be accurate.”

In a press release announcing the report, the Council wrote, “science has provided an increasingly clear picture of the inherent limits in human visual perception and memory that can lead to errors, as well as the ways unintentional cues during law enforcement processes can compromise eyewitness identifications.”

So far, 51 people have indicated on the Petersen Facebook page that they are going to the fundraiser next week.

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