Former Atascadero mayoral candidate faces significant prison time after latest arrest

Atascadero home burned in possible arson fire

An Atascadero, California, man was arrested early Tuesday after police say he may have been involved in a house fire and then led police on a pursuit that reached into Paso Robles.
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An Atascadero, California, man was arrested early Tuesday after police say he may have been involved in a house fire and then led police on a pursuit that reached into Paso Robles.

An Atascadero man who once secured 40 percent of the city’s vote in his bid for mayor is facing serious prison time after his latest run-in with police.

Charles Scovell, who has been in repeated trouble with the law since his unsuccessful foray into politics in 2014, was in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Friday to be arraigned on felony charges of arson of an inhabited structure, evading a peace officer and resisting arrest.

Appearing in custody with a clearly bruised face, Scovell entered no plea to those charges, but his appointed public defender motioned the court to continue the arraignment to Tuesday.

Attorney Jason Dufurrena said the Public Defender’s Office has tentatively accepted the appointment but is investigating whether it has any conflicts in the case.

He had been in County Jail in lieu of $120,000 bail since his arrest early Tuesday morning, but Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen raised that amount to $520,000 Friday.

Scovell in court001
Charles Scovell is arraigned in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, Friday, August 30, 2019, on charges of arson and fleeing a peace officer. Laura Dickinson

Van Rooyen also ordered that Scovell be seen by medical staff at the jail as soon as possible.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran said after the hearing that should Scovell be convicted of the five felonies he’s facing, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 11-and-a-half years in state prison due to his prior criminal history.

Scovell, 40, who operated a tree trimming business in Atascadero, made a formidable run against former Mayor Tom O’Malley in 2014, losing the race 58.9 to 40.3%.

His legal troubles began shortly after the election, when he was arrested on suspicion of felony driving under the influence resulting in injury and felony hit-and-run in 2015. He was sentenced to about 20 days in County Jail and three years of probation.

In January 2016, he accepted a plea deal in a domestic violence case stemming after causing an hours-long standoff with police. Court records show Scovell was handed a 6-year sentence, which was suspended pending completion of five years of formal probation. He was also ordered to undergo “intensive outpatient treatment” in that case.

His break ended in December 2016, when he tried to rob a teller at Heritage Oaks Bank in Paso Robles and led officers on car chase. For that, he was sentenced to 16 months in state prison, records show.

But on Monday night, after allegedly causing a house fire in the 1500 block of El Camino Real, Scovell allegedly led authorities on a high-speed pursuit that reached into Paso Robles and didn’t end until after a spike strip was deployed.

The fire was contained just before 8 p.m., and the Atascadero Fire Department said that residents of the home were not there at the time of the incident.

The fire, which started in a bedroom, caused an estimated $265,000 worth of property and content loss, according to a news release from the fire department. About 40 percent of the home was destroyed, Deputy City Manager Terrie Banish previously said. One firefighter received minor injuries during the blaze.

Charles John Scovell pictured in a 2014 Tribune candidate photo. David Middlecamp

A witness told investigators that a small truck drove away from the home after the fire started, and police soon learned the truck belonged to Scovell, who they said was a resident of the home that burned.

At about 11:45 p.m., an Atascadero police officer saw the truck leaving the Motel 6 in the 9400 block of El Camino Real and attempted to stop the vehicle, which did not yield and a vehicle pursuit began.

With assistance from San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s deputies, police chased Scovell’s car up Highway 101 and onto Highway 46 East past Airport Road. Police said Scovell then turned the truck around and authorities pursued it back into the city of Paso Robles, where Scovell stopped the car at the intersection of Highway 46 East and Highway 101 before continuing on southbound Highway 101, where speeds reached more than 100mph, according to a news release.

Police deployed spike strips, which disabled Scovell’s truck near Curbaril Avenue, according to the release.

Authorities later found Scovell’s vehicle abandoned in the driveway of the Motel 6 on El Camino Real, where he had rented a room at the motel earlier Monday, according to police.

After a “lengthy” standoff, members of the Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Detail entered the motel room and took Scovell into custody, according to the release.

Staff writer Gabby Ferreira contributed to this article.

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