Meth series: ‘There’s a snake on me. I can feel it pressing down on me’

December 11, 2016 - Montana Standard

The 25-year-old man stood on the railroad tracks in the pitch dark of an August night, begging police officers to rescue him from an attacking snake.

The call to police dispatch in Uptown Butte came in around 3 a.m. Officers Rich O’Brien and Jim Duddy responded to the railroad crossing on Kaw Avenue and found the man wearing a hoodie with the hood pulled over his head and a look of terror on his face.

O’Brien would later confirm the man’s “hallucinations” stemmed from methamphetamine use. He had dealt with the Butte man on prior occasions. When he’s sober, O’Brien says, he’s a “pretty good kid,” easy to talk to and always honest.

But in the early-morning hours of Aug. 10, the man seen in body-cam video rails against the National Security Agency and screams desperate cries over a snake wrapping itself around his legs and shoulders — and visible only to him.

“I don’t know what the (expletive) technology these people have, all right, but, like, they can disable my phone. They can do all sorts of crazy (expletive). There is a … snake on me. I can feel it pressing down on me. Get off!” he screams.

“I’m flipping tired,” he says, claiming his lack of sleep the past two days is due to harassment from a man who lives in his apartment building. He calls him Watermelon and talks to him in O’Brien’s body-cam video. However, the hallucinating man and the two officers are the only people at the crossing.

“You need to stop. You don’t have any dope on you, do you?” inquires O’Brien.

“No, I just want to sleep, and I don’t want to get attacked,” says the man and begins to cry. “That’s all I want, that’s all I want. I don’t want to go to the hospital.”

O’Brien assures the man he’s not taking him to St. James Healthcare. Instead, he’s being arrested, not for meth but to protect him and the residents in his building. Two days later, he was re-arrested after walking up to the second floor of the Butte Prerelease Center in Uptown and complaining of a snake crawling on him.

O’Brien’s work in corrections exposed him to youth and adults suffering from substance abuse. He recalled hearing “meth stories” from many of the inmates during his two years at the county jail.

Since joining the Butte-Silver Bow police force over four years ago, he said the city has seen a huge increase in meth use.

“I know we see a lot of it — it’s sad,” said O’Brien.

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