JAG fire update: Suspect is flight risk, prosecutors say

A woman accused of burning down the Judge Advocate General’s office on Fort Benning appeared in federal court Friday and was denied bond.

Shawana Topekia Pierce, who is employed on Fort Benning, had her initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth continued from Thursday. On Friday, attorneys focused on a potential bond for Pierce, who Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Flanagan indicated was responsible for the Feb. 6 fire that destroyed the JAG office.

The condition of case files were put into question because of the fire. Flanagan said that Pierce was a suspect in a theft of government property case and files about her were in the office.

“She knew she was a suspect,” Flanagan said.

Arguing against bond, the prosecutor said that when Pierce saw officers before her arrest, she fled into nearby woods. Also, her car was filled with personal belongings. Flanagan added that Pierce hadn’t requested leave from her job on post.

Defense attorney Mike Reynolds argued that while the accusations against his client were serious, they didn’t make Pierce a flight risk. She has one child living with his father in Kansas, but all her other ties are here.

Reynolds spoke with Pierce’s mother Thursday night, and he said his client can stay with her if granted a bond. The only prior criminal record Pierce has is a simple battery case from when she was 18- or 19-years-old.

Faircloth said he was concerned that Pierce had packed her car, making it appear she was ready to flee. He ordered her held without bond until her next court appearance on Thursday, when he’ll re-examine the possibility of a bond.

Faircloth also issued a gag order in the case until the investigation is complete, which he expects will be Thursday.

Federal agents executed a search warrant Wednesday night at 1031 Pembrook Drive in Columbus in connection with the fire at the JAG office.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Marc Jackson has said that federal agents were present at the home around 7:30 p.m. to execute the warrant. He also confirmed the search was connected to the fire at Building 5 on Vibbert Avenue, but would not say if any arrests were made.