Man Accused of Stealing Wallet From California Firefighter Combating Wildfire Arrested

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
August 28, 2020US News
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Man Accused of Stealing Wallet From California Firefighter Combating Wildfire Arrested
Brian Johnson, 37, from Santa Cruz, Calif., in a booking photo. (Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office)

Authorities in California said they arrested a man accused of stealing a firefighter’s wallet and then draining the money from his account while he was fighting the CZU Lightning Complex fire in Santa Cruz.

The suspect has been identified as 37-year-old Brian Johnson from Santa Cruz and allegedly admitted to using the firefighter’s credit card, Santa Cruz Sheriff Jim Hart said at a press conference Thursday.

Johnson, who is said by police to be out on formal probation, was taken into custody earlier this week after a team of investigators conducted a probation search at his home and found the same clothing he was seen with on a surveillance camera. Investigators also recovered merchandise that was recently purchased, allegedly with the credit card of the firefighter.

The sheriff said Johnson has been arrested on multiple felony charges that include forgery, grand theft, credit card theft, possession of stolen property, and a probation violation. The details on his probation were not immediately clear.

Police said the suspect stole the wallet in the late hours between Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 out of a Cal Fire firefighter’s parked vehicle at the Bonny Doon Fire Station on Empire Grade Road while he was out fighting the blazes.

Hart said Johnson used the credit card “a number of times,” but he didn’t disclose the exact amount of all the credit card charges, though he did mention one purchase of $1,400.

“I don’t have a total dollar amount, I know that one purchase that was made was $1,400,” Hart said. “But, there [were] a number of other purchases.” He called the theft “unacceptable” and will truly advocate holding Johnson accountable for his actions.

“[This] case really resonated with me,” the sheriff said. “Here we have somebody who came from completely out of the area. Left their family, left their normal life to come here to Santa Cruz County to help our community get through the most catastrophic fire that we’ve seen in our history and then somebody has the audacity to steal from this man.”

Hart also said Johnson clearly “did not realize when he used this firefighter’s credit card what he was getting himself into,” adding that the suspect has since “sat down and wrote a letter of apology to the fireman.”

Some people that were impacted by the firefighter’s story reached out to the police department and offered to pay back the “whole bill” that Johnson allegedly drained from his account, Hart said, but fortunately, the credit card company reportedly reversed all the transactions.

“The firefighter and his family have expressed extreme gratitude for the outpouring of support but are not interested in any donations at this time,” the police department wrote in a statement on Facebook.

The CalFire CZU also sent out a warning to the public on Twitter that a GoFundMe account created to raise money in support of the firefighter whose wallet was stolen is not associated with the fire department and they advise donors to be cautious when contributing.

Police said the investigation in the case is still open and they are currently investigating a second person, adding that it is possible additional information regarding that person’s arrest will be released in the coming days.

Roughly 15,000 firefighters are battling blazes throughout the coastal state right now, the largest fires are already burning for more than a week in multiple California counties around the San Francisco Bay Area. The one in wine country located north of San Francisco has killed at least five people and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, including homes.

NTD Photo
A firefighter of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., monitors hot spots while fighting the CZU Lightning Complex Fire on Aug. 23, 2020, in Bonny Doon, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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