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Lawsuit: Kent arson suspect kept in jail despite evidence

Seventy-five firefighters battled this three-alarm fire Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, at a Kent strip mall. (KOMO News file photo)

SEATTLE (AP) — A federal lawsuit says a Des Moines grandmother was kept in jail and home confinement for eight months for an arson she didn't commit because a Kent fire investigator withheld evidence that could exonerate her.

Linda Poplawski was shopping at a dollar store in Kent in 2016 when she reported a fire to employees. She was arrested after a store worker told police — falsely, Poplawski says — that she had threatened to burn the store down.

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That same day, however, an anonymous caller told police that a gang member named Michael Poasa admitted setting the fire as a diversion while shoplifting. Poplawski's attorney, Sean Gillespie, says the fire investigator for Kent police, Eric Pedersen, failed to provide information about it to prosecutors.

As a result, it was not provided to Poplawski's defense attorneys until the eve of trial — after she had been in jail for a month and on electronic home monitoring for seven more. Prosecutors dropped the case when the evidence came to light.

Pedersen did not immediately respond to a request for comment placed through his employer, the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority. Neither the fire authority nor Kent Police Department is named as a defendant, but Pedersen is sued in his individual and official capacities.

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