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Columbia man arrested in city hall fire has lengthy criminal history

UPDATE: According to court records, Stokes pleaded guilty to six counts of felony knowing burning or exploding back in 2014. Police arrested him for starting six different fires over the course of 24 hours in downtown Columbia.

Court records say Stokes was placed on five years probation in December 2014 but his probation was revoked two months later. He was then ordered to serve three years in prison.

In January 2015, Stokes pleaded guilty to harassment. Court records say he called the Broadway Diner in downtown Columbia and told an employee the building was going to explode.

In April 2018, Stokes was arrested for trespassing. In May 2018, he was arrested for trespassing and property damage after police said he broke a computer at the MU Student Union.

Most recently, Stokes pleaded guilty to first degree sexual misconduct in September. Police said he admitted to urinating in public at Flat Branch Park.

ORIGINAL: A Columbia man is accused of setting a fire in a city hall bathroom Monday, causing the building’s evacuation.

Willis D. Stokes III, 58, was arrested after a witness watched him set the fire in a first-floor men’s bathroom toilet paper holder, police said. The Columbia Police Department said in a news release that the witness watched Stokes as he walked down Broadway and led police to him. Stokes was arrested on suspicion of first-degree arson. He also had a municipal warrant for his arrest.

Firefighters were sent to the building at about 11:20 a.m. and quickly extinguished the fire, which caused about $1,000 in damage, according to the release. No one was injured.

The fire happened as the Columbia City Council was preparing to meet at noon to discuss and vote on a severance agreement for former City Manager Mike Matthes, who resigned last week. The meeting went on as planned after firefighters allowed people back into the building.

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