Fort Worth

Arrest made in ‘violent’ vandalism of St. Stephen Presbyterian Church

Cones and yellow tape block the entrances to the education building of St. Stephen Presbyterian Church after it was vandalized overnight Sunday, January 8, 2016.
Cones and yellow tape block the entrances to the education building of St. Stephen Presbyterian Church after it was vandalized overnight Sunday, January 8, 2016.

A 54-year-old man has been arrested in the vandalism of St. Stephen Presbyterian Church earlier this month, police said Friday.

Thomas Dale Britton faces a felony charge of criminal mischief of more than $300,000. He was taken into custody Thursday, police said.

The century-old church near TCU was vandalized and set on fire about 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 8. The fire was put out quickly but the church was badly damaged, forcing officials to cancel Sunday morning services.

Windows were shattered and furniture was broken. Books had been ripped apart, and food and containers had been stacked on a stove and torched.

The Rev. Frederick “Fritz” Ritsch III described the vandalism as “disturbingly violent.”

The damage is estimated at $500,000, according to an arrest warrant affidavit for Britton.

He was being held Friday at the Mansfield jail with his bail set at $25,000.

‘Black, tarry substance’

Britton was identified as a suspect from surveillance video at the church and by people who knew him from a support group, police said.

Two people from the group told police that Britton showed up to a meeting the day of the vandalism with a “black, tarry substance” on his face and hands, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Britton told them he had been wildcatting for an oil rig, the affidavit said.

When the people from the meeting saw news about the church vandalism, they thought of Britton and called police.

Police showed them pictures from security video, and they identified Britton, according to the affidavit.

‘Numerous small cuts’

Detectives questioned Britton after he was arrested on a seat-belt violation Jan. 10. Britton had several pieces of a black substance in his hairline, according to the affidavit.

He also had “numerous small cuts” on his hands and fingers “that are consistent with the breaking of glass,” the affidavit said.

Detectives stopped the interview and released Britton when he asked to have a lawyer present.

The next day, police released the security pictures to the public on Jan. 11 and immediately began getting more calls.

Several more people from Britton’s support group met with police this week and told detectives about Britton showing up to the meeting on Jan. 8 with his hands and face covered in a dark, thick substance.

One person told police that when the group asked Britton about the substance, he said, “What’s the big deal, it’s a work-related accident.”

Britton was arrested in 2015 on a terroristic threat charge, accused of threatening a man with a knife in Fort Worth, according to Tarrant County court records. A grand jury declined to indict him.

Maryland court records show that Britton, while living at homeless shelter in Baltimore, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in an incident from 2011.

Officer Jimmy Pollozani, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said police records show that Britton had previously used an address at a homeless shelter on Lancaster Avenue.

St. Stephen has run a homless ministry for years, according to its website, but Rev. Ritsch said Friday that no one he spoke to at the church knows Britton.

Earlier this month, police questioned Jonathan Jimenez, 21, in the vandalism after his arrest on unrelated warrants, but Jimenez has been cleared in the case, police spokesman Sgt. Marc Povero said.

This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives