Suspect in Lowell horse barn fire arraigned for removing electronic tether

Lowell horse barn suspect jailed

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A Lowell Township man under investigation for an arson fire that killed 13 horses was arraigned Friday for cutting off an electronic tether he was ordered to wear four days after the April 8 blaze.

Payton Mellema, 20, was already a suspect in the fire on Timpson Avenue SE when Kent County Circuit Court Judge Donald A. Johnston ordered that he be outfitted with the tether as an amendment to his probation.  The judge in November placed Mellema on probation for 2½ years for a home invasion conviction.

Mellema wore the tether for 18 days before cutting it off on Sunday. He was locked up in the Kent County Jail the next day. He was arraigned via a video link-up between 63rd District Court and the Kent County Jail. He is charged with tampering with an electronic monitoring device, a two-year felony.

►Related: Suspect in Lowell horse barn fire called a public safety risk, jailed for probation violation
►Related: 13 therapy horses killed in barn fire, criminal investigation underway

Judge Jeffrey O’Hara set bond at $200,000, noting Mellema’s criminal history, a personal protection order taken out against him last month and his mental health.

“The court has a real concern about the mental health issues of Mr. Mellema,’’ the judge said. “The court is concerned about protecting the community, the danger to the public and community safety.’’

On Thursday, Mellema appeared in Kent County Circuit Court for violating terms of his probation by removing the tether. Johnston set bond in that case at $50,000. Defense attorney Jeffery S. Crampton asked for a lower bond that would allow Mellema to be released for treatment in a secure mental health facility.

“Part of the problem in jail is he’s not getting a lot of his medications,’’ Crampton said outside of court Friday. “I see him from when I first met him going downhill.’’

Crampton said he plans to pursue an insanity defense in the pending criminal cases. “Because of his mental health issues, we are asking for an evaluation of his competency,’’ he said.

Mellema was fitted with an electronic ankle tether on April 12, but it was causing him discomfort, Crampton said.

“Mr. Mellema explained he was having issues with the tether he cut off,’’ Crampton said.  “He self-reported the fact that he cut it off and he actually zip-tied it back on.’’

Mellema called his probation officer to report that he cut it off, but the call was not returned, Crampton said. “When he didn’t get a call back, he went in and self-reported and they’ve had him ever since.’’

He was sentenced to probation for a July, 2016 break-in at a neighbor’s home in which a .22 caliber firearm was taken.

The neighbor in that case got a personal protection order against Mellema shortly after the break-in.  “It is believed he has been in my home on numerous occasions,’’ the woman wrote.

Kathryn A. Welton, owner of The Barn for Equine Learning, obtained a personal protection order against Mellema less than a week after the horse barn fire.

Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Helmer identified Mellema as the “primary suspect’’ in the fire. Mellema lives next door to the facility. No charges have been filed in that case.

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