Homeless man charged in setting of four fires

·3 min read

Sep. 20—A homeless man who fire investigators say could have been involved in multiple Downtown- and bosque-area fires has been accused of setting fire to three dumpsters and a vacant storefront in less than 15 minutes earlier this month along Central Avenue near the river.

John Ferguson, 53, is charged with arson over $20,000 in connection with the Sept. 9 incident. He was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center early Saturday. It is unclear if he has an attorney.

Prosecutors filed a motion to detain Ferguson until trial, calling his behavior "extremely dangerous."

"These fires could have easily grown larger and injured or killed someone, " the motion states. "Furthermore, these fires are putting (Albuquerque Fire Rescue) firefighters at risk as well."

AFR investigators said in court records that they are "extremely familiar" with Ferguson and believe he may have been involved in multiple fires set in the Downtown area and along the bosque over the past several months.

Ferguson was detained by Albuquerque police, according to court records, near a bosque fire Sept. 14 but was released due to "a lack of probable cause."

Ferguson's criminal history dates back to 2012 and court records hint at years spent battling homelessness, drug use and possible mental health issues. Most of the cases against him were dismissed for various reasons, including a prosecutor missing deadline, officer not showing up and witnesses not testifying.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court:

An AFR investigator was tasked with finding out who set multiple fires on Sept. 9 along Central near the river. Three fires were set in dumpsters around the Old Town area before a fourth fire was set in the front awning of the former Cafe Laurel at Central and 15th.

The fire caused severe damage — estimated at $35,000 — to the doorway, front window and building structure before being extinguished by firefighters. Investigators found surveillance footage that showed Ferguson ride his bike from one dumpster to the next, before stopping at the entrance to Cafe Laurel.

Smoke and flames appeared soon after Ferguson left each scene. Investigators noted that Ferguson has been seen "watching fire crews and riding his bike" near multiple fires set to dumpsters and in the bosque in recent months.

"The person(s) responsible have never been caught in the act or captured by surveillance," the complaint states.

Ferguson's criminal history includes arrests for burglary, criminal damage to property, larceny and commercial burglary.

Ferguson was first arrested in 2013 for allegedly stealing copper from the Rancho De Corrales Event Center. At the time he listed his address as a modest home in Rio Rancho.

In the years that followed, Ferguson filed for divorce — claiming he was homeless and his wife disappeared with their 15-year-old daughter — and was sentenced to a year's probation in the attempted theft of an air compressor.

Ferguson's probation was revoked due to not maintaining contact with his probation officer and reportedly using methamphetamine. In 2019, Ferguson was charged with breaking the window of a prisoner transport van with a rock. He told police he trying to get their attention and was upset because "unknown groups" were conducting "strange tests" on him.

In 2020 Ferguson was charged with six counts of criminal damage to property after allegedly keying the vehicles of six employees of the KRQE news station. The vandalism happened outside the station and was witnessed by KRQE personnel and caught on surveillance cameras.

Prosecutors eventually dismissed that case.