Police say a man lit himself on fire as an officer was trying to arrest him at the Thriftway convenience store at Front and Utah streets shortly before midnight Tuesday.
The officer was able to put out the fire on the man’s hoodie sweatshirt and after a wrestling match that spilled into the parking lot, took him to the ground with help from male customer.
There were no real injuries but the officer’s arm was singed slightly, said Undersheriff George Skuletich.
The incident began when the officer went into the store to collect evidence related to a prior crime and recognized 34-year-old Joshua Roy Smith of Butte inside. Smith was wanted for outstanding warrants.
When the officer said he was going to arrest him, a struggle ensued and the officer could feel a bulky object in Smith’s hoodie pocket. Based on prior incidents, he thought it might be a gun.
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It was actually a can of yellow spray paint and somehow during the struggle, Smith was able to spray it and ignite the contents with a torch lighter, setting his hoodie pocket on fire.
“The pocket was fully engulfed,” Skuletich said. “He (the officer) was trying to hold onto him with one hand and put the fire out with his other hand.”
While the struggle continued in the store, the officer couldn’t call for backup so he asked the clerk to call 911, which she did.
The wrestling match then spilled outside and a male customer asked the officer if he needed help. He said yes and the two managed to take Smith to the ground and hold him there until other officers arrived.
Smith was wanted on at least three outstanding warrants in Butte and was also booked on one felony complaint of assaulting an officer and two misdemeanor complaints of obstructing a peace officer. He remained jailed late Wednesday morning.