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Ex-criminal justice professor accused of going on 'arson-setting spree' near California’s massive Dixie Fire

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A former criminal justice professor was arrested Saturday and accused of setting a series of fires in Northern California near the area where the massive Dixie Fire continues to burn.

Gary Stephen Maynard, 47, was charged with "willfully setting fire to any timber, underbrush, or grass upon lands owned by the United States," an affidavit states.

Maynard first garnered the attention of authorities on the morning of July 20, which is when mountain bikers first reported a fire on the western slopes of Mount Shasta, according to court papers.

U.S. Forest Service investigator Brian Murphy responded to the reports of fire and encountered a man, later identified as Maynard, underneath a black Kia Soul, which had its front wheels stuck in a ditch and its undercarriage centered on a boulder, court documents allege.

"Murphy introduced himself as an official with the Forest Service and requested the man's name," court papers read, according to the Sacramento Bee. "This man did not come out from under the vehicle and did not identify himself, but instead stayed under the vehicle and mumbled words that (investigator) Murphy could not understand."

"(Investigator) Murphy advised this man that he would like to ask him a few questions," court papers allege. "The man quit digging and stood up. ... Murphy began to ask questions about the nearby fire to which this man responded that he did not know anything about any fires."

Court papers say Maynard asked Murphy to help tow his vehicle, but when the investigator said he could not assist him, the man became "uncooperative and agitated" and crawled back under the Kia.

"Inv. Murphy recognized the man's uncooperative and agitated behavior and felt it was safest to distance himself from this man," the complaint read.

There was another car parked about 100 feet away from the Kia. The occupant, described in court documents as "Witness 1," told Murphy that he had been there since the day before and interacted with Murphy.

"Witness 1 stated that he had brief interactions with [Maynard] but described concerns about the man's enraged behavior and said that, at one point, the man pulled out a large knife and looked towards Witness 1 for unknown reasons. Witness 1 believed the man was mentally unstable, describing the man as, 'mumbling a lot and having bipolar-like behavior,'" the complaint stated, as reported by Law & Crime.

A second fire ignited the next day on Mount Shasta, and investigators found tire tracks similar to those made by Maynard's Kia, according to court documents.

Authorities investigated Maynard and discovered that someone called police in October 2020 to express "concerns" about the college professor, who was working at Santa Clara University, court papers said.

"This concerned citizen told officers that Maynard had told her he was suffering from anxiety, depression, split personality, and that he wanted to kill himself," according to an affidavit. "This concerned citizen said that Maynard had moved out and was possibly living somewhere out of his vehicle."

Authorities reportedly tracked Maynard through his electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card used for public assistance. Court papers reveal that law enforcement obtained cellphone search warrants and a warrant allowing a vehicle tracker to be placed on Maynard's Kia.

Law enforcement tracked Maynard's movements for hundreds of miles, which included stops in the areas where the Ranch Fire and Conard Fire started on Saturday in the Lassen National Forest, court papers state. Maynard was reportedly arrested Saturday inside the emergency closure area forced by the large Dixie Fire that is burning up 780 square miles.

"He entered the evacuation zone and began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie Fire," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson wrote in a detention memo. "In addition to the danger of enlarging the Dixie Fire and threatening more lives and property, this increased the danger to the first responders."

"Maynard was traveling alone through the forest in isolated areas. Agents had installed a tracker on his vehicle. Where Maynard went, fires started. Not just once, but over and over again," federal prosecutors wrote in a bond memo.

"It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree," court papers say. However, Maynard is only charged with starting the Ranch Fire.

"Maynard's fires were placed in the perfect position to increase the risk of firefighters being trapped between fires," the court documents say. "But for the dedication and efforts of U.S. Forest Service investigators working around the clock to track Maynard, those fires would not have been discovered in their infancy."

Maynard vehemently denied setting the California fires, according to court papers. When he was booked into the Lassen County Jail, he purportedly "became enraged and began kicking the jail cell door."

Court documents claim Maynard screamed at police officers, "I'm going to kill you, f***ing pig! I told those f***ers I didn't start any of those fires!"

Maynard reportedly had worked at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, where he is listed as a lecturer in criminal justice studies specializing in criminal justice, cults, and deviant behavior. Maynard is no longer employed at either school.

Maynard faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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