The four young men allegedly wanted to retaliate against the Scotia Police for what they perceived as harassment, so they exacted revenge upon the small department’s top cop.
Sometime during the early morning hours on June 3, 2010, a Molotov cocktail smashed a second-floor window in the home where then-acting Police Chief Tom Rush was living with his wife and young daughter. By chance, the lit, gasoline-soaked wick that was jammed in the glass bottle full of fuel fell out after it was flung at the residence, thereby preventing the device from igniting.
“This was a potential tragedy that was averted, fortunately,” said Peter Frisoni Jr., who succeeded Rush as Scotia police chief in 2011.
Rush’s home wasn’t the only one struck. Two other homes — one that was also occupied — and a vehicle parked in the driveway of a North Ballston Avenue residence were damaged after being struck by Molotov cocktails on the same evening.
Now, after nearly three years of dogged investigation, authorities say they finally cracked the case and arrested four area men on felony counts of arson. Shawn Dedrick, 20, of Scotia; Alexander Grandstaff, 21, of Rotterdam Junction; Gregory Mitchell, 21, of Scotia; and Joseph Parkhurst, 21, of Schenectady were each charged with first-degree arson, first-degree attempted arson and two counts of third degree arson in Scotia Village Court late Wednesday.
Frisoni said the group of men were well-known by Scotia police for their disorderly conduct around the village. He said the four frequented Collins Park at night with others and were usually the subject of complaints by neighbors who accused the group of smoking marijuana and playing loud music.
“The common theme was they weren’t going to tolerate the Scotia police telling them what they could and couldn’t do,” Frisoni said during a news conference at Village Hall Thursday. “They felt [Rush] had been a thorn in their side.”
All four face between 15 years and life in prison on the top charge. They were sent to the Schenectady County Jail without bail pending their appearance in court next week.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said the severity of the charges reflects the seriousness of the crimes. He likened the case to another arson in Rotterdam, where a trio of individuals used homemade explosive devices and periodically detonated them around the home of an individual they were targeting.
“This is a very serious allegation,” he said. “Anybody who thinks this sort of behavior is some sort of a prank needs to become seriously educated to the seriousness and the lawlessness of this type of event.”
Investigators believe the four men — then between the ages of 17 and 18 — made numerous Molotov cocktails at a friend’s home around the date of the attacks. Sometime during the pre-dawn hours, they allegedly loaded them into Grandstaff’s car and then drove around the village hurling them at places and individuals they targeted.
At the Rush residence, the burned wick was recovered from the sidewalk in front of the home. But that device was the only one of the four that didn’t ignite.
The bottle smashed at a vacant home on 22 Fifth St. — across the street from Dedrick’s residence — ignited the front porch. The structure under renovation sustained moderate damage.
Another bottle smashed inside a parked car between 227 and 229 North Ballston Ave. and destroyed the vehicle, which Frisoni said was owned by someone “feuding” with the group. The homes on both sides of the burning car were occupied but sustained no damage.
Another home at 219 North Ballston Ave. sustained minor damage when a Molotov cocktail struck the side. Investigators said the home was occupied.
Frisoni credited the “dogged pursuit” of Scotia police and help from the state police in solving the crime after nearly three years. He said the investigation also was aided by leads secured through unrelated cases.
“In a small community, you hear whispers,” he said.
Parkhurst and Grandstaff both had prior arrests in Schenectady County within the last three years. Grandstaff was arrested in January and charged with a felony count of first-degree criminal sex act, after he was accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl in Glenville. At the time of his arrest, he was free on $25,000 cash bail.
“They were known to us,” Frisoni said of the arrested men. “This department had knowledge of all four individuals.”