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Mistrial declared for professor accused of setting fire to tortilla chips

One juror exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, another has day care problems, leaving only 11 on panel
A mistrial was declared Monday in attempt to try Fort Lewis College associate professor Bradley Clark, 48, on suspicion of first-degree arson in connection with a blaze at south City Market in October 2019. Clark is accused of starting the blaze by igniting tortilla chips in aisle 7. (Durango Herald file)

The first attempt to try a Fort Lewis College professor for first-degree arson after he allegedly ignited tortilla chips at south City Market ended this week in a mistrial.

The mistrial for Bradley Todd Clark was declared Monday, said Eric Hogue, court executive for the 6th and 22nd judicial districts, which includes Durango.

The mistrial came after one juror reported COVID-19-like symptoms and another juror encountered an unexpected problem obtaining day care. Both jurors were excused, leaving the jury with only 11 members on what was supposed to be a 12-member jury, Hogue said.

Clark, 48, an associate professor of political science at FLC, was arrested Oct. 6, 2019, on a charge of first-degree arson in connection with a blaze a day earlier that began in aisle 7 at south City Market in Durango.


The Durango Police Department had obtained video surveillance from the store that showed a male suspect igniting the blaze.

The man was seen in video footage going to the self-checkout to purchase items, using a debit card and a City Market Value Card. Law enforcement officials tracked the cards and said they belonged to Clark.

A search warrant was issued for Clark’s home, and he was taken into custody a day after the fire.

Within days, Clark was placed on administrative leave at FLC. He remained on leave as of Tuesday, according to a college spokeswoman.

Clark joined FLC in 2006.

According to Durango police, Clark had been arrested in 2007 in connection with a dumpster fire, though prosecutors ultimately dropped those charges.

The south City Market fire was quickly doused by Durango Fire Protection District, and damage was confined to the dry-goods aisle.

No one was injured in the blaze. However, the fire set off sprinklers in the store and reportedly caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

A status conference is scheduled for Thursday to reschedule the trial.


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