DA Vance: Man Indicted for Intentionally Starting Fire That Devastated Hamilton Heights Apartment Building

February 9, 2018

6-Alarm Blaze Injured Three Firefighters, Indefinitely Displaced More Than 35 Families

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro today announced the indictment of JELANI PARKER, 34, for intentionally starting a fire inside a Hamilton Heights apartment building that destroyed the property and injured three Firefighters. The defendant is charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with Arson in the Second Degree, Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, and Assault in the Second Degree.[1]

“Fire is an unparalleled danger to public safety in our dense, urban environment,” said District Attorney Vance. “As alleged in this case, the defendant intentionally started the Hamilton Heights inferno that consumed the homes of more than 35 families and injured three of the courageous Firefighters who responded to the scene of the blazing building. I thank our partners at the FDNY for their unending fearlessness, as well as our partners at ATF and NYPD.”

Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said: “This reckless act threatened the lives of nearly 150 residents and more than 200 Firefighters who bravely battled it for hours. Thanks to our Fire Marshals and their collaboration with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Arson Response Task Force (ATF), the defendant will be held accountable for his callous actions.”

ATF Special Agent-in-Charge Ashan M. Benedict said: “The alleged actions of Jelani Parker have displaced many from their homes while others recover from injuries due to his dastardly acts. Even greater damage, destruction and death could have resulted for countless innocent people but for the valiant efforts of the FDNY and other first responders. Thanks to the efforts of the Agents, Detectives and Fire Marshals assigned to the ATF/ NYPD/FDNY Strategic Explosive and Arson Response Task Force, Mr. Parker was quickly apprehended and brought to justice. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for their work in prosecuting this case.”

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, at approximately 2:50 p.m. on November 17, 2017, PARKER, a tenant in the apartment building located at 565 West 144th Street in Hamilton Heights, entered the building with a red gas can, rode the elevator up to the top floor, and went into the sixth-story apartment that he shared with his mother and father. Once inside, the defendant doused a room with gas and lit it on fire. Video surveillance later obtained from the building shows the defendant leaving the smoke-filled apartment at approximately 3:10 p.m., hurriedly walking down several flights of stairs, and exiting the building shortly before the fire spread to other floors. The blaze culminated in a 6-alarm fire that required more than 200 members of the FDNY to extinguish. Three responding Firefighters suffered injuries.

In total, more than 35 families remain displaced from their homes as a result of the fire. The building has been deemed structurally unstable and a Department of Buildings vacate order remains in effect.

After the incident, PARKER fled to North Carolina and then to California, where he was apprehended before being brought back to New York.

Assistant D.A. Rachana Pathak is handling the prosecution of the case under the supervision of Assistant D.A. Michael Ohm, Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau, Assistant D.A. Judy Salwen, Principal Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau, Assistant D.A. Jodie Kane, Chief of the Rackets Bureau, and Executive Assistant D.A. Michael Sachs, Chief of the Investigation Division. Paralegal Annie Bell, Rackets Investigator Angel Estremera, Senior Rackets Investigator Anthony Santoro, Supervising Rackets Investigator Donato Siciliano, Assistant Chief Rackets Investigator Michael Wigdor, and Deputy Chief Investigator Jonathan Reid also assisted with the investigation.

District Attorney Vance thanked the following organizations and individuals for their assistance with the investigation: the FDNY, and in particular, Fire Marshals Michael Colicci, Robert Cox, Richard Faraci, Phillip Meagher, and Erik Schmitt, as well as Supervising Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn; ATF/NYPD/FDNY Strategic Explosives & Arson Response (SEAR) Task Force, and in particular, Agent Kin Chung Lee; NYPD and Arson & Explosion Squad, and in particular, Detective Edward Simonetti; Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; and Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

[1] The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.

Defendant Information:

JELANI PARKER, D.O.B. 12/20/1983
New York, NY


  • Arson in the Second Degree, a class B felony, 1 count
  • Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, a class D felony, 1 count
  • Assault in the Second Degree, a class D felony, 3 counts