A Flatlands man was charged in federal court on Sept. 18 with intentionally setting the fire that ripped through the Kings Plaza parking garage the day before.
Evon Stephens, 23, was charged with damaging more than 135 vehicles owned by various local car dealerships, which store their cars in the garage, according to documents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. The arson case is going before the federal court because the damaged and destroyed vehicles are used in interstate and foreign commerce, according to court documents.
The fire raged for more than three hours on the morning of Sept. 17 and injured 26 people, including 20 firefighters, although none of the injuries were life-threatening, according to a spokesman for the fire department.
The mall stayed closed for Monday and Tuesday, but reopened for normal hours on Wednesday Sept. 19, according to a statement tweeted by mall officials.
Stephens was captured on surveillance cameras in the garage between 8:10 am and 8:25 am, when the mall was closed and the garage wasn’t open to the public, according to court documents. During this time, he allegedly walked through the garage and tried to open several parked vehicles. A security guard approached him and directed him to stop for questioning, but Stephens allegedly refused and walked away from the guard, according to the criminal complaint.
At approximately 8:15 am, the cameras captured the defendant walking through the area in the garage which is used by a Mercedes-Benz dealership, where he entered a parked car and was captured moving around inside it, according to court filings, and shortly thereafter, the surveillance footage showed the car on fire.
After several minutes, a fire spread throughout the garage, damaging or destroying more than 135 vehicles owned by various local car dealerships.
At 8:20 am, Stephens was caught by a surveillance camera running from the garage and he allegedly looked at the camera and made “an obscene hand gesture.”
At 3:30 pm, the police stopped Stephens nearby for questioning relating to the fire, and he allegedly asked the officers how long the mall would be closed because of the fire and if they knew who did it, according to the criminal complaint.
After he was arrested, Stephens allegedly waived his right to remain silent or speak with an attorney and then confessed to starting the fire, according to court documents, saying that he did it because he believed that people used the cars for “sexual activity.”
He also allegedly told the police that he routinely accessed the cars stored by the dealerships at the mall’s garage and that he knew they were owned by the dealerships. After his police interview, Stephens told reporters gathered outside the 63rd Precinct that he was sorry.
“I’m sorry, I apologize,” he said, according to court filings.
Stephens’s last known address was in Flatlands but he is currently homeless, according to a police spokeswoman, who said he was a familiar presence in the area whom locals would recognize.
During his court appearance on Tuesday, Stephens looked downcast, holding his head in his hand and answering the judge’s questions quietly or by shaking his head.
No bail was set in court on Sept. 18, but his defense attorney, Michael Weil, has the option of asking for a bail arrangement.
For now, Stephens will be kept in federal custody as his trial continues. His next court date hasn’t been set.