NEW YORK (AP) — The man charged with setting a small fire at the courthouse hosting Donald Trump's civil business fraud trial burned papers bearing complaints about criminal justice, prosecutors said Thursday.
Wednesday's fire forced an evacuation of the main Manhattan civil court building hours after testimony wrapped up in the former president's trial. But there was no indication the two events were related.
The 38-year-old man was arraigned Thursday on attempted arson and reckless endangerment charges. Bail was set at $50,000 cash or $150,000 bond.
It's not clear what brought the man to the courthouse, familiar to many TV viewers as a backdrop for "Law & Order," "Night Court" and other shows.
While on the fourth floor late Wednesday afternoon, the man set ablaze papers with handwritten criticisms of the criminal justice system, prosecutors said at his arraignment at a criminal courthouse down the street.
They said that after the man ignited the documents, he pulled an alarm and started dousing them with a fire extinguisher.
"I started the fire, then I put it out," he told a court officer, according to a court complaint.
The smoke and extinguisher chemicals created a haze around the fourth floor and into the stairwells. There were no reports of serious injuries, though court system spokesperson Al Baker said Thursday that "many court officers suffered physically" and praised their "indispensable public service in a trying moment."
The courthouse was evacuated, but people were allowed to return shortly afterward. Among them was Judge Arthur Engoron, who is deciding Trump's case.
The trial had been unfolding in a big ceremonial courtroom on the third floor. The lawyers and others involved, including New York Attorney General Letitia James, left more than three hours before the fire upstairs. Trump wasn't at court at any point Wednesday.
With testimony complete, closing arguments are set for Jan. 11.
Fires have put the brakes on the wheels of justice before in New York, where the court docket often includes prominent people.
In 2010, a smoky fire in the basement of the Manhattan criminal courthouse forced over 1,000 people to evacuate, left eight with minor injuries and shuttered the building for the day, delaying rap star Lil Wayne's sentencing in a gun case. The blaze happened a few hours before he was due in court.
By JENNIFER PELTZ Associated Press