takomapark_maryland_fireengine_1259472_hA professor at American University is being charged was arrested on suspicion on arson and burglary after a fire broke out at a shopping mall next to the campus.

According to an affidavit obtained by the local Fox4 news agency, Montgomery County police officers observed David Pitts, head of American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, set fire to a chair in the Foxhall Square in the 3300 block of New Mexico Avenue NW parking lot. Pitts was under surveillance on suspicion of a burglary that it was reported earlier.

The affidavit says Pitts walked up to a local Starbucks coffee shop and proceeded to light a newspaper on fire with a lighter. Police observed as Pitts immediately walked away, but returned within “seconds” to relight the newspaper. Soon after, Pitts was observed walking into a wooded area around Embassy Park Drive, where he allegedly set ablaze to an unknown item before attempting to break into the Foxhall Square Offices.

When Pitts was observed attempting to break into the Foxhall Square Office, Montgomery County Police initiated an arrest. Pitts allegedly attempted to run but was soon caught and taken into custody. During a search of Pitts’ home, investigators discovered  5,431 prescription pills, some of which included Cialis, Ambien, Lunestra and Hydrocodone. It’s unknown whether or not Pitts was under the influence of prescription medication at the time of the incident.

During an interview with investigators, Pitts denied starting the fire and attempting to break into the Foxhall Square Offices. However, he later confessed that he did in fact attempt to enter the building. The affidavit states that Pitts “blamed it on a disoriented state and a need to obtain an envelope in his name containing a prescription from the office of his psychiatrist who has an office on the third floor.

Soon after the incident was made public, the American University issued a statement, saying that Pitts’ role as chair of the department will be taken over by Dr. Alison Jacknowitz.

Beginning immediately, Dr. Alison Jacknowitz will assume responsibilities as chair of the department, and we are making arrangements for other faculty to assume teaching responsibilities for Dr. Pitts’ classes,” said the statement issued by American University.

It’s unclear what kind of charges Pitts will face at this time. Police are currently investigating the possibility that Pitts started several other fires prior to this incident.

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