Homeless man jailed for Texas senator’s office fire


By Angela K. Brown and Will Weissert
Associated Press

FORT WORTH — A homeless man accused of throwing a bag filled with six Molotov cocktails at state Sen. Wendy Davis’ office tried unsuccessfully to speak to her in the days leading up to the attack and talked of aliens after his arrest, investigators said Wednesday.

Cedric Steele, 40, was arrested in a convenience store parking lot late Tuesday, hours after the incident in which no one was injured. He was being held on $50,000 bond on charges of arson, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead said.

A search of the abandoned house where he had been staying turned up wicks, empty bottles and a container for lighter fluid.

Steele visited the Democratic senator’s office on Friday and Monday, and when he couldn’t see her, he told staff members they would soon “read about him in the news,” Halstead said.

Davis has been at the center of a fight over redistricting in Texas, but Fort Worth police Maj. Paul Henderson said Tuesday’s attack does not appear to be politically motivated, and Steele seems mentally unstable.

After the incident, Steele told an officer he had a piece of an alien in the rafters of a vacant house, according to the documents in the case.

Davis said police have asked her not to reveal details about Steele’s visits to her office until the investigation is complete. But according to an arrest warrant affidavit in the case, he demanded to speak to her about an incident in Michigan involving a stun gun. He also left part of a dead animal, claiming it was “new species and wanted the senator to see it,” according to the affidavit.

Davis was in her nearby law office and not in her Senate district office about 4 p.m. Tuesday, when staffers heard fire alarms sounding and smelled a strange odor. They opened the door to find burning bottles and waist-high flames — which they were able to put out with a fire extinguisher.

The fire, she said, could have been much worse.

“I think it was his hope that there (would) be an explosion. There certainly was a fire, and thankfully one of our staff members responded very quickly in extinguishing it,” Davis told The Associated Press. “But had it exploded, as I think this person had intended that it would, we could be talking about something very different today.”

Though the attack probably wasn’t politically motivated, Davis said fiery partisan rhetoric both in Texas and on the national level has increased the danger of violence against elected officials.

“That purposeful, inciting of emotion can trigger an emotional response for people who are mentally unstable and don’t know how to react appropriately,” Davis said.

A Democrat who joined the Senate in 2009, Davis made headlines nationally for staging a filibuster that kept the Republican majority from passing a school finance bill that cut more than $4 billion in education funding at the end of the Legislative session in May. A budget containing the cuts was eventually approved, but only during a special session.

Davis’ office operated as usual Wednesday. Its exterior door was damaged and part of the hallway carpet burned in the fire, but building staff replaced the door and pulled up the charred carpet to reveal exposed concrete underneath.

Both Davis’ office and the building are open to the public. Asked whether she plans to increase security, Davis said “certainly we are looking at that,” and added that her staff would consult with the Texas Department of Public Safety on the physical layout and ways to improve safety.