A U.S. Marine Corps recruiter accused of starting fires in the Bismarck recruiting station has pleaded not guilty to arson.
Anthony DeGroot, 29, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday morning to Class B felony arson and Class A misdemeanor false information to law enforcement following a preliminary hearing, said Dawn Deitz, Burleigh County assistant state’s attorney.
Deitz said South Central District Judge Sonna Anderson found probable cause for the felony charge following the preliminary hearing, during which an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified about the case. Misdemeanor charges do not require preliminary hearings.
Anderson also tasked Deitz and defense attorney Justin Vinje with coming up with a scheduling order for the case, as the attorneys believe a trial could take up to a week, Deitz said. No further hearings have been scheduled yet.
According to documents from Bismarck Police Detective Dean Clarkson, a man called 911 at 6:59 p.m. Dec. 26 to report seeing smoke at the Armed Services Recruiting Office and seeing a man, later identified as DeGroot, exit the building with duct tape around his face and wrist and lie down on the ground. The man said he had seen lights go out in what was the Marine side of the building before "DeGroot exited the building in a calm manner," Clarkson wrote.
Responding officers took DeGroot to a safer location and cut off the duct tape. DeGroot was not responsive, so officers began CPR until DeGroot became responsive. DeGroot later was taken to a hospital, where it was found that he had no apparent injuries.
Clarkson’s affidavit said DeGroot is a Marine recruiter working from the office on Front Avenue. In court at his initial appearance, DeGroot said he has been in the Marine Corps for 10 years and is a staff sergeant.
During interviews with police, DeGroot said a man came to the recruiting office and said he wanted to join the Marines. DeGroot said the man struck him when he approached him at the front door, knocking him unconscious, Clarkson wrote.
DeGroot told officers he awoke to find himself duct taped inside the dark building that was filling with smoke. He said he crawled out to the sidewalk and collapsed when the cold air hit him.
Meanwhile, the police department, fire department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the fire, Clarkson wrote. Investigators found seven separate fires had been set in the recruiting station: at DeGroot's desk and in his locker, in an office, in two storage rooms and two bathrooms. Shredded paper was the fuel source for the fires, Clarkson wrote.
Information released at the time of the fire estimated that there was $30,000 in damage to the building.
Investigators also found a roll of duct tape in DeGroot's desk that was the same type as that on DeGroot's body, the affidavit said.
Another recruiter told investigators that DeGroot was not scheduled to work on Dec. 26 and had been having issues with his ex-wife. According to court documents, DeGroot and his wife divorced in September. The recruiter also told officers the recruiting station does not have duct tape in the office, Clarkson wrote.