Man linked to burning of St. Petersburg woman has been accused of arson before

The boyfriend of a burned St. Petersburg woman was acquitted in a 2011 home fire.
Published July 6 2016
Updated July 7 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — The man police plan to question in the burning of a woman Tuesday night was accused by a former girlfriend in 2011 of setting fire to her home following a fight, according to records.

John Riggins, 37, was acquitted by a jury in the case. But court filings show it was not the first or last time he was accused of domestic violence.

Tuesday's incident left Sheron K. Pasco, 37, in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital with burns over 60 percent of her body. Initial St. Petersburg police reports indicated she had argued with Riggins, her boyfriend, at a home they were staying in at 2800 24th Ave. S.

But later that night police said they were not certain those first reports, which indicated that Pasco was doused in gasoline and set on fire, were correct. Instead, they said, conflicting witness accounts left investigators unable to confirm how Pasco was burned and to what extent Riggins was involved. A witness said that Pasco herself later claimed Riggins didn't do it.

Riggins was not facing any charges as of Wednesday.

Officers responded to the house about 8 p.m. Tuesday and found the injured woman. After searching the area for Riggins, they later found him in a vacant home next door.

He was also taken to Tampa General, where he received treatment overnight for burns. His injuries were not considered life-threatening. Police said Wednesday that they were still waiting for an opportunity to question him.

Riggins has a long criminal history that includes an allegation that he set his girlfriend's home on fire in May 2011.

The girlfriend, Yashica Clemmons, accused him of setting the fire after she confronted him about cheating on her, according to an arrest report. The two fought, Clemmons said, and Riggins twisted her wrist before snatching and throwing her phone.

Later that night, she learned her house was on fire.

Clemmons told officers that Riggins had a violent past, the report said, and she was "certain" that he had set the fire. State records show he has a history of arrests dating to 1994 that also includes charges of armed robbery, domestic battery and child abuse.

Clemmons could not be reached for comment.

A witness told the Tampa Bay Times that Riggins and Pasco had been fighting about fidelity before the fire Tuesday. Earnest Neal, 67, who described himself as Pasco's uncle, said he heard "a ruckus" between the couple about "being faithful, being unfaithful."

Next, Neal said, he saw Pasco covered in fire. A woman inside helped Pasco into a bathtub to put out the flames. The skin on her face, arms, legs and back was peeling off, Neal said.

"Why would you do something like that?" he said. "That's extreme."

Neal said afterward that Pasco said Riggins did not set her on fire. But the uncle did not believe his niece.

"She's trying to protect him," Neal said.

Pasco tried to get a domestic violence injunction against Riggins in October 2014, according to court records. It was not granted because she failed to appear in court. In her petition, Pasco wrote that Riggins was violent toward her and her children, once choking her in front of a relative.

"(I) can't keep on with this," she wrote.

Another attempt by Pasco to file for an injunction against Riggins in 2014 failed because the court determined she failed to accuse Riggins of any wrongdoing.

In 2013, a man who identified himself as a caretaker for Riggins' ailing mother requested an injunction, saying he was afraid Riggins would hurt him. The man also wrote that he could not get Riggins or his girlfriend to leave the man's home. That petition was denied, according to court records, because the man could not prove Riggins had been violent.

In 2009, another woman also asked for a protective order against Riggins, saying he had a drug problem and had choked her and pushed her.

"I do not know of his intentions," the woman wrote. "But I do know I do not want my kids or myself living with fear in our souls."

That injunction was denied when she also failed to appear at a hearing.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Laura C. Morel contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at or (727) 893-8804.