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Star-Telegram.com

DPS unprepared when arsonist attacked governor's mansion, report says

Posted Thursday, Jun. 19, 2008

By JOHN MORITZ

jmoritz@star-telegram.com

AUSTIN -- The night the Texas Governor's Mansion was attacked by an arsonist, the lone state trooper guarding the 152-year-old facility was inadequately trained to be prepared for the emergency, and seven of the 20 security cameras on the grounds were not functioning, the agency that oversees the Texas Department of Public Safety was told Thursday.

"This is likely not the finest hour for the department," Department of Public Safety Commission Chairman Allan Polunsky said (June 19) after hearing a blistering preliminary report on the predawn June 9 blaze.

The report delivered by DPS Sgt. Mike Escalante said that troopers assigned to guard the mansion while it was vacant and undergoing a $10 million renovation had requested additional round-the-clock staffing, but the request had not been acted upon by the time the fire inflicted heavy damage to the stately building.

In addition, key security equipment had been taken off the mansion property for repairs. The lone trooper on duty was not watching the bank of video screens when the fire broke out after someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the mansion's porch, Escalante said.

The trooper was later told by an off-duty Austin police officer that a suspicious person was seen leaving the vicinity shortly after firefighters were called. The person then drove away.

Officials later discovered a cigarette lighter near where security cameras showed the arsonist to be.

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