A former St. Paul police officer with a troubled past has been charged with setting fire last summer to a building that houses a restaurant he owns with his wife.

Tou Mo Cha, 55, was charged in Ramsey County District Court last week with second-degree arson in connection with the fire on Aug. 9 at Checkerboard Pizza in the 900 block of Arcade Street.

Cha, of Little Canada, was charged by summons and is due in court on March 27. Court records do not list an attorney. A message was left Monday seeking his response to the allegations.

According to the criminal complaint:

Surveillance video from nearby businesses shows Cha leaving the restaurant and repeatedly entering the same building’s apartment complex. The fire started after the final time he exited the apartment entry.

Cha told police he and his wife were present at the time the blaze started, but he denied going in the apartment entry around that time.

Fire investigators determined the blaze was set in the apartment portion of the building, possibly with gasoline being ignited with an open flame.

“The action that brought these items together was an intentional human act,” the complaint read, citing fire investigators.

The monetary amount of damage from the fire was estimated at $100,000.

In 2018, Cha was at the center of a case that resulted in the firings of five St. Paul police officers, and for which he was sentenced to 90 days in jail for assault. Cha pleaded guilty in August 2019 to third-degree assault for an attack on June 17, 2018, captured on a police squad-car dash camera.

Cha admitted in court to striking a man in the head with a wooden club outside Checkerboard Pizza. The victim, a nephew of his wife’s, suffered a head injury that required 24 staples to close. Five St. Paul police officers accused of standing by as Cha attacked the man were later fired.

In February 2005, Cha resigned from the Police Department after pleading guilty to lending out his service pistol, which was then used to shoot up the Maplewood home of a Hmong leader. No one was injured.

His resignation was part of a plea agreement in which the county dropped two other weapons and assault charges. Cha was sentenced to 30 days in the county workhouse and five years’ probation.

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