Rebuilding his torched restaurant, Olive You. Kelly O

Weeks after firefighters doused blazes across Greenwood, the charred sites of almost a dozen arsons still pock the North Seattle neighborhood. Four restaurants, a coffeehouse, a theater, and a guitar shop have closed their doors. Several buildings are reduced to cinder. Now some business owners and neighbors are wondering if some of the damage could have been prevented.

Kevin Todd Swalwell has been held in the King County Jail, charged with the crimes, since his arrest on November 13. He is scheduled for an arraignment hearing on December 1, facing 11 felony counts of arson and one count of burglary. However, court documents show that police had clues as early as this summer that Swalwell—a neighborhood fixture with a criminal record as a repeat arsonist—was the culprit.

Records filed in King County Superior Court say that Swalwell, 46, was a suspect in the investigation and had been identified "at the scene of at least four of the fires." Swalwell's criminal record also shows he was convicted of five counts of arson in 1995, one count of arson in 1983, and other crimes, including theft.

"If he had been caught earlier, my restaurant would be open and we wouldn't have gone through all this construction and had the time loss," says Timur Leno, owner of the restaurant Olive You, which was struck on November 9. He's not blaming the police but, he says, "They had all the information on him and he slipped into the cracks and was not caught. It's just strange. The police must explain to us: How could this happen?"

"I think [the investigators] should've put emphasis on him sooner," says Malka Aust, co-owner of Cobblestone Used Furniture on Greenwood Avenue North. Rosewood Guitar, next door to her business, was burned in early November. "They could have prevented the Rosewood and Olive You fires," she says.

At a Seattle Police Department (SPD) press conference on the afternoon of Swalwell's arrest, a reporter asked how long investigators have been watching Swalwell.

"We received a tip early on in our task force and, uh, actually I can't comment much further about that," said Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer. He added, "I hope you appreciate that our main motive is to build the best possible case. And at this point, some of the information that I think you rightfully are seeking is pretty integral to building that case. As we get more information, we're going to provide it to you promptly."

Police apparently got their first clues that Swalwell may have been involved this August. In a house fire on August 13, Carlos Salmeron suffered burns to over 70 percent of his body and his home sustained $170,000 in damage. Investigators determined the fire was started by a "hand-held flame" and fueled by the contents of Salmeron's own recycling bin. The next day, a neighbor found a container of lighter fluid when she was taking out the trash. She called police, who checked the container for fingerprints. "This palm print was later matched to the known prints of the defendant, Kevin Swalwell," say King County Superior Court records. However, the report doesn't indicate when the fingerprint match was made, but, presumably, police would have also had Swalwell's prints on file; he was arrested two times earlier in 2009, according to online King County Correctional Facility records.

"After the first three buildings went, why weren't there cops at every corner?" asks Wade Kipling, a sales associate at Insurrection Apparel & Boots, one of the Greenwood businesses that escaped the arson spree.

Catching Swalwell may have been feasible for police looking for him in Greenwood. Beverly Howard, a manager of Romio's Pizza and Pasta, which sustained $200,000 in water damage when firefighters drowned the blaze there, says Swalwell repeatedly came in to use the bathroom and he came in with another homeless man a few days before the fire. "I saw him a few times," she says. "He was usually talking to himself, flailing his arms, and smoking at the same time." Howard said it is common knowledge among Greenwood neighbors that Swalwell and other homeless people often slept behind the shuttered McDonald's, within a couple blocks of the majority of the crime scenes. Swalwell also received his mail, under his real name, at the Ballard Food Bank, two miles away.

It's unclear when, exactly, Swalwell became a suspect in the arsons. Police did not respond to numerous requests to comment or answer questions about when police first identified him at the arson scenes or linked him to the crimes.

However, prosecutors allege that Swalwell committed several more arson attacks after police found his palm print on the lighter-­fluid container. Most damaging was the Green Bean Coffee House and three adjacent businesses, which prosecutors say suffered $2 million in damage on October 23.

Summer Mohrlang, manager of the Green Bean, says there may have been more police presence than residents realize. "You wouldn't have noticed them because a lot of them were in plainclothes," she says. "I will say that I've had a really wonderful experience working with them. I have total confidence that they did a really thorough job."

Seven days after the Green Bean Coffee House fire, a surveillance camera at the local Bank of America recorded Swalwell smearing his stool across an ATM keyboard, says branch manager Wen Lin. The SPD investigated the incident the next day but didn't ask for the tapes in relation to the arson case until November 16, after Swalwell was in custody, court records show. In the weeks between the ATM incident and Swalwell's arrest, he allegedly set at least six more fires, causing another $100,000 of damage.

Overall, business owners and residents harbor less blame for Swalwell than for a deficient social-service system and an arguably slow investigation by law enforcement.

"I just hope he gets the care that he needs," says Howard from Romio's. Many Greenwood residents are largely grateful to put the incident behind them.

Leno, the Olive You owner whose restaurant was burned nearly three months after Swalwell's handprint was found, is trying to put his business back together. "I have that void in my life, and I don't know how to fill it out. I had this great momentum going in my life, and it stopped like that. It's a lot of thinking and worrying, and I have no control over it."

Before construction-site machinery showed up in the neighborhood to shovel remains into several bus-size Dumpsters in late November, artifacts of pre-fire life lay amid the ruins: dining chairs, the plastic upholstery bubbled and peeling; a Chinese paper lantern that miraculously escaped combustion; and a commercial refrigerator that read "Cold Drinks."

Just west of the wreckage, Taproot Theatre is out of commission. It's had to close for repairs due to, as its website says, "significant smoke and water damage." According to Taproot spokeswoman Daytona Strong, the theater plans to continue its season at different locations and intends to return to its Greenwood home by late January. For now, the marquee reads "The Show Goes On." recommended