Update 11 a.m. September 30: Houston police say the man, who has a history of mentall illness, will not be charged and remains in Ben Taub NeuroPsychiatric Unit.
A man in a suit doused himself with what appeared to be gasoline outside the Exxon building on the corner of Milam Street and Leeland Street at about 5 p.m. Friday.
Houston police spokesman Kes Smith said the 25-year-old man approached a security guard at the Exxon building, 800 Bell Street. and said he had a can of gasoline with him. The building security guard and an off-duty Houston police officer who was working as a security guard saw the man walk around the corner to Milam Street. Houston police responded to a call about a possible protestor at about 4:45 p.m., Smith said.
The man sat on the sidewalk in front of the building with a small pillow and a large red gas can. Maria Gonzalez was standing on the corner when she saw him grab the can and dump the liquid on himself.
He pulled a lighter from the pocket of his dark suit and was believed to be trying to set himself on fire when the officer responding to the call and the off-duty officer lunged at him, grappling with the man to get the lighter from his hands.
"He was trying to use the lighter and the officers were trying so hard," Gonzalez said.
They succeeded in wrenching the first lighter from his hands when the man, a 25-year-old Texas resident with a history of mental illness, pulled out a second lighter and the struggle began again, Smith said.
Within minutes the officers had the man flat on the ground, his hands handcuffed behind his back. There were about eight officers on the scene, three police cars and a fire truck. The officers let the man sit cross-legged, hands still cuffed behind him, while officers and security guards for the Exxon building shouted for people to stay back.
People gathered in clumps across the street and cars crept by slowly while drivers stared out their windows at the sight. Once he'd been subdued, he sat on the sidewalk, head dropped down, without a flicker of emotion on his face. His blond hair and black suit were soaked with what Houston firemen on the scene said was most likely diesel, a much less combustible fluid, Smith said.
Houston Police Lt. P. Manzo said the man never said a word as he poured what she believed to be diesel on himself and then struggled with police as they stopped him from lighting himself on fire.
Once the man was subdued, officers brought out lengths of yellow tarp to block him from view while he was stripped of his dark suit and cleaned with a water hose from a firetruck. Police then ducked the tarp-covered man into a car. He was taken to a hospital and hasn't been charged with anything, Manzo said.
Another passerby who saw the man earlier said he was seated on the ground facing the street with what appeared to be a small white board to the right of him and a gas can on his left. There was writing on the white board but it was too small for him to be able to read it from the street, the passerby said.
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Smith said there was a handwritten sign propped up on a tri-pod, but he doesn't know what was written on the sign. The man had no connection to Exxon and has a history of mental illness according to family members, Smith said. His name will not be released because he has not been charged with a crime and is protected under mental health laws, Smith said.
ExxonMobil spokesman Patrick McGinn said they are also unclear what the man was protesting and confirmed the man had no ties to Exxon.
On Monday, Smith said he does not expect the man, who is still being treated at Ben Taub NeuroPsychiatric Center, will be charged with anything. "The focus is on getting him the help he needs," Smith said.
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