Man charged in connection to Kohl’s fire in 2017

YORK COUNTY — A former loss prevention supervisor of Kohl’s has been charged in connection to a fire that occurred in the West Manchester Township department store last year.

Eric Robertson, 28, is accused of setting a fire in the retailer’s electrical room in May 2017 and misleading the West Manchester Township Police Department during its investigation into the incident. He faces multiple counts of arson and one count each of reckless burning or exploding, dangerous burning and tamper with or fabricate physical evidence.

Upon arrival on May 1 around 9 p.m., Officer Lance Krout — whose sergeant told him to respond to Kohl’s at the request of West Manchester Township Fire Chief Cliff Laughman — spoke with Robertson, the loss prevention supervisor who discovered the fire.

Robertson told Officer Krout that everything seemed fine as he walked by the open door to the electrical room toward his office. Though, that changed a few minutes later.

“He [Robertson] stated he was in his office for about ten minutes then went to leave his office when he noticed the fire in the open door way by the electrical panel,” Officer Krout wrote in the criminal complaint. “He grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out and immediately called a code red and made management of the store aware.”

Robertson advised that items being stored in the electrical room by the panels as well as leaving the door open and unlocked has been an ongoing issue for store management. He said that at least two bags of stuffed animals were stored directly in front of the electrical panels, according to charging documents. Robertson was then asked about video footage of the area where the fire took place — he said that cameras did not cover that part of the store. Officer Krout then asked for all footage from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., primarily because Robertson told police about a store employee that quit earlier in the evening.

The next day, Robertson turned over the surveillance video and spoke with Officer Krout again — which is when police say Robertson changed the timeline of how the fire was discovered. Robertson showed video to the officer of him entering the room at the time he said he did, however, he now says that he was only in his officer for less than a minute.

June 8: After speaking with the employee who quit the day of the fire, Officer Krout stopped at the store and briefly spoke with Robertson about the video from the hours of 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. He told the officer that the DVD burner was broken and would bring the video to the police station the next day as a replacement was coming that same day.

On June 21, Officer Krout met with Marc Scholl, the district’s loss prevention manager and Robertson’s boss. As the two reviewed the video, the officer explained the inconsistencies in Robertson’s statement from the night of the fire. Video then captured Robertson enter the room 10 to 12 minutes prior to the fire being discovered, something that Robertson didn’t mention, charging documents say. Scholl added that Robertson appeared nervous when the officer and the State Police Fire Marshal spoke in private, and allegedly stated, “they think I did it … they always suspect the person who finds the fire.”

In the same conversation, the officer asked Scholl about Robertson’s comments regarding the DVD burner not working. He advised that Robertson was lying and he never received any notice about it being broken or needed repair. A technician confirmed to police that he did go to Kohl’s but did not work on the DVD Burner.

A day later, Officer Krout called Robertson to talk about the video that was still outstanding.

“Eric appeared nervous over the phone and started to tell me the video I requested was gone as they had some issues with the video system and they lost the video,” the officer wrote in the criminal complaint. “When I questioned him how it got lost, he could not provide an answer and said the system was having issues.”

Police then requested Robertson to come to the police station to discuss the case and possibly look at the video. He agreed.

During the recorded discussion, Officer Krout told Robertson that the fire is being ruled an arson and he talked about the inconsistent statements that were made during the investigation. The officer explained to Robertson that video showed him entering the electrical room 10 to 12 minutes prior to the start of the fire as well as his movements before and after the blaze, charging documents says. The officer also mentioned how he had an issue with Robertson changing his story after learning that it was on video.

Robertson told Officer Krout that he did not remember going into the room.

An extensive review of the video showed that no one entered the room where the fire occurred until Robertson did at 7:48 p.m., charging documents state. Robertson is then seen walking toward his office, past the electrical room, and into the front of the store. He went outside, re-entered and walked back, again, to his office around 7:59 p.m. At that point, he entered his office and after several seconds, exits and then claims he saw the fire, charging documents add.

“During this video, I could not find any evidence of any other subject entering that room other than Eric Robertson,” Officer Krout wrote. “Eric claimed to me he did not recall entering that room almost 10 to 12 minutes prior to discovering the fire.”

The officer added that in his opinion, Robertson intentionally lost the video from the hours of 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. since the video would show the employee that quit leaving the store at the time he said he did.

“Therefore, he [the employee who quit] could not have set this fire, since if he did, Eric would have discovered the fire or noticed a burning smell when he entered the electrical room at 7:48 p.m.”