Loss prevention officer accused of setting fire in W. Manchester Kohl's

A former loss-prevention officer at the West Manchester Township Kohl's is accused of intentionally setting a fire in the store.

Kohl's in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Township police say Eric J. Robertson repeatedly delayed giving authorities surveillance video from the May 2017 fire and acted nervous when officials asked him about the footage.

Robertson, 28, of Hatboro, Montgomery County, is charged with two counts of arson of an inhabited building, and one count each of arson endangering property, reckless burning, tampering with evidence, and a summary dangerous-burning offense.

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Initial fire: West Manchester Township Police were called by the fire chief about 9 p.m. May 1, 2017, after various stuffed animals had been burned inside a small utility room across from the loss-prevention office.

Officials were initially told that Robertson, the loss-prevention officer for the store at the time, had put out the fire before firefighters arrived, police said.

According to court documents, Robertson said he was in his office for about 10 minutes and about to leave when he noticed the fire in the open doorway by the electrical panel. He told authorities that he grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out, according to officials.

Robertson told police that it had been an ongoing issue with store management storing items in the electrical rooms by the panels and leaving the doors open and unlocked.

Officer Lance Krout told Robertson that he wanted video of the area of the incident, but Robertson told him that wasn't possible because cameras didn't cover that part of the store, charging documents state.

Robertson: Krout then requested surveillance footage from the whole store for the previous three hours leading up to the fire. It was later determined that the electrical panel did not start the fire, officials said.

Police say Robertson was inconsistent with his statements and delayed giving some footage to authorities. 

In June, police spoke with Robertson's supervisor, who showed the investigator video from the night of the fire. The video did not match Robertson's initial account of his actions that night, according to charging documents.

The supervisor recalled that on the night of the fire, Robertson was "nervous and excitable" and believed authorities thought he had set the fire, the documents state.

"They always suspect the person who finds the fire," Robertson allegedly told his boss.

The supervisor noted that people leaving the doors open and storing the products in these rooms is a problem, but Robertson's job was to move the items from the front of the panels, and just close the door, which had not been done on the night of the fire, court documents state.

Robertson went to the police station in late June, and Krout explained that he had an issue with Robertson's statements versus what was shown on surveillance footage.

"I explained that I had issue with the fact that he walked by the room after leaving it as if checking on the progress of the fire," Krout wrote in charging documents.

When speaking to police, Robertson denied setting the fire and only said, "I'm not going to admit to something I didn't do," before requesting an attorney, officials said. 

The next day Robertson's boss fired him because he wasn't forthcoming with him and was not cooperating with police, charging documents state.

Charges for Robertson were filed May 15, and he was arraigned on the charges May 16. 

He remains free on $10,000 unsecured bail, meaning if he does not show up to court proceedings, he could forfeit up to that amount. 

A message left for his attorney seeking comment was not immediately returned. 

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 11 at District Judge Keith Albright's office.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.