Almeda fire arson suspect faces new animal abuse charges
A man accused of intentionally setting a fire in Phoenix that contributed to the Almeda fire now faces added criminal charges surrounding the deaths of eight animals.
Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, made his first court appearance Friday on eight new misdemeanor counts of first-degree animal abuse surrounding animals that perished in the portion of the fire he allegedly set, according to a filing from the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office in Jackson County Circuit Court.
The charges accuse Bakkela of “unlawfully and recklessly and cruelly” causing the death of animals described as a sheep, a canary, a lamb, a goldfish, two chickens and a raccoon, according to the document filed by Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz. A Jackson County Sheriff’s Office case number in the filing shows that the animal abuse investigation matches that of the arson case investigation.
The court document identifies four owners of the pets and livestock.
Last month, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on Markiewicz to add animal abuse charges in the case, arguing in a letter that “cruelty to animals charges must not be lost in this fire.”
A call to Markiewicz was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
Markiewicz is separately prosecuting Bakkela on first-degree arson, first-degree criminal mischief and reckless endangering charges accusing him of starting a fire near the railroad tracks in the 200 block of Hoyt Lane in Phoenix that contributed to the Almeda fire and allegedly caused at least $600,000 in damage, according to court documents and earlier news reports.
On Oct. 1, Markiewicz filed notice in the arson case that prosecutors will seek steeper penalties in their case against Bakkela. Reasons include “harm greater than typical,” that the crimes “were committed during an ongoing fire or catastrophe,” claims that Bakkela is a “repeat property offender” and because the crime occurred while he was on probation.
Bakkela has numerous felony convictions dating back to 2005, Jackson County Circuit Court records show, the bulk of them related to methamphetamine possession.
Bakkela’s next court appearance in the animal abuse case is currently scheduled for Oct. 19, and his next court appearance in the arson case is a pretrial conference currently scheduled for Dec. 14.
He is held in the Jackson County Jail on more than $5 million bail.