Charges: Shoreview barbershop arson fueled by man’s desire to open his own barbershop

A Columbia Heights man is accused of burning a barbershop in Shoreview because he wanted to open a new barbershop.

Dennis Ambrose Manning, 55, was charged with one count of first-degree arson and one count of second-degree arson in connection with a fire at Pauly Ray’s Sports Barbershop, which is inside Shoreview Village Mall.

On Nov. 29, deputies from Ramsey County and firefighters from the Lake Johanna Fire Department were called to the 1000 block of Highway 96 West just before 7 p.m. on a report of a fire, according to a criminal complaint.

Fire crews got into the barbershop, which was fully engulfed in smoke. The sprinkler system in the store had successfully put out the flames, the complaint added. Fire officials said the fire originated in a corner of the shop near a video gaming area.

Surveillance video shows Manning inside the barbershop just before 6:30 p.m. flicking a lighter to ignite a flame, bending over near the video game area and then walking away, court documents state.

A fire quickly started and burned for around 20 minutes before the sprinkler system was activated, fire officials say. Firefighters added that embers from the lit cloth accelerated the fire as they fell underneath the table.

Shortly before 8 p.m., a deputy reported seeing Manning in a doorway by an entrance using his phone to either FaceTime someone or record the scene, the complaint stated.

Officials say Manning was arrested and denied starting the fire. According to the complaint, Manning later said, “How would a lighter start them games on fire? Doesn’t make sense. Those are my games.” He also added “There’s no footage of me having a lighter to start anything on fire. It’s ludicrous.”

The complaint says Manning eventually admitted to lighting a portion of the cloth on fire, saying “Oh, you know what? I did take the lighter and lit a string on a cloth that was hanging on the game. That was it. I did not start the fire. And it fell on the chair. I did not start the fire.”

Manning also told officials that he and the owner were planning to move the barbershop to a different location in Columbia Heights, but the barbershop owner told deputies he had no intention of closing the current shop.

The owner added that he had never seen Manning burn loose strings with a lighter and he thinks Manning started the fire on purpose to close his business and make it easier for him to agree to start a new shop in Columbia Heights, something he said Manning had been repeatedly asking him about.

Manning is due back in court on Dec. 28 at 1:30 p.m. for an omnibus hearing.