A man arrested Wednesday in connection with a string of suspicious car fires won’t be charged after authorities concluded he did not commit the crimes, the Long Beach Post has learned.
Authorities have been investigating a series of five car fires in the Downtown Long Beach area over the last two weeks that have left some neighbors shaken.
On Wednesday, authorities touted what appeared to be a breakthrough in the case when they announced the arrest of 31-year-old Long Beach resident Cristian Jehovany Portillo on suspicion of arson.
However, the Long Beach Fire Department arson investigator on the case soon determined that another person was responsible for the fires, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
“They no longer believe (Portillo) is the actual perpetrator,” Deputy District Attorney David Cheng wrote on a charge evaluation worksheet. “Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prove the case, beyond a reasonable doubt, against the suspect.”
The mistake was made, according to fire officials, because Portillo resembled someone that authorities were looking to question in relation to the string of car fires.
“The person matched the description,” LBFD spokesperson, Capt. Jake Heflin said. “Not to say it was him, but it matched.”
Portillo, who was booked on suspicion of arson and carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, spent more than a day in jail before being released from police custody Thursday afternoon.
Heflin said that fire officials never actually called Portillo a suspect and that while he was taken into custody, he was always simply a “person of interest” based on the information that investigators had at the time.
“The idea is (investigators) are doing exactly what they should be doing,” Heflin said. “They were making sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted.”
“That’s why the investigation is ongoing … And they took the appropriate actions to remove those charges,” he added.
Fire officials say they’re still investigating the string of fires, the first of which was reported on Aug. 20 near the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. Four more car fires followed, with the latest happening Tuesday morning near the Camden Harbor View apartment buildings near The Pike.
Each time, the cars were parked inside a parking structure when they caught fire. The fires were set in various ways, but officials would not specify exactly how.
No additional fires of the same suspicious nature have been set since Tuesday, officials said.
Officials continue to ask community members to speak up if they continue to see anything suspicious. Anyone with information regarding the car fires is asked to call the LBFD’s arson unit at 562-570-2582.