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Mont. man who lit self on fire gets 10 years for escape attempt

Joshua Roy Smith pleaded guilty to assaulting three detention officers in the 2019 incident

By Mike Smith
The Montana Standard

BUTTE, Mont. — Joshua Roy Smith was in deep enough trouble after allegedly setting himself on fire while being arrested at a convenience store in Butte and during the struggle telling the police officer he had a bomb.

While in jail on three felony charges and one misdemeanor for that incident, prosecutors say he tried to escape and assaulted three detention officers. That resulted in five more felony charges.

On Thursday, District Judge Kurt Krueger sentenced Smith to 10 years in the Montana State Prison for the jail incidents. He has yet to be sentenced for the crimes at the convenience store but faces another 10 years in that case. As part of a plea deal, Smith, 36, agreed to plead guilty to one count of assaulting an officer in each case. The charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and that’s what prosecutors recommended.

That’s what Krueger imposed in the second case Thursday despite an apology from Smith and pleas he be sentenced to Department of Corrections custody instead of Montana State Prison.

There’s a big difference.

The DOC oversees the prison in Deer Lodge, of course, but a DOC sentence often results in little or no time there. Instead, offenders are often sent to DOC treatment programs or pre-release. A sentence to Montana State Prison means one place — the prison.

Smith said he had been in jail more than 800 days and during that time lost his mother, who he called “the only thing left I liked about myself.” He also said he had made poor choices but was an addict.

“I am asking for something I have never had the opportunity to benefit from and that is treatment — intensive, inpatient treatment,” he said.

But prosecutor Mike Clague said Smith had caused enough havoc in the community and he could get treatment at the prison. Krueger agreed.

The first case stemmed from an incident on a late November night in 2019 at the Thriftway convenience store at Front and Utah. It began when an officer went into the store to collect evidence related to a prior crime and recognized Smith. He 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.

Police said 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 so the officer was trying to hold Smith with one hand and put the fire out with his other hand. The wrestling match spilled outside and a male customer helped the officer get Smith to the ground and hold him until other officers arrived.

He was charged in that case with felony counts of assault on a police officer, criminal endangerment and possession of explosives, and one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.

On Dec. 31 that year, while jailed for the fire incident, detention officers discovered that caulking around the sink in Smith’s cell was gone and the sink could be completely removed. There was other damage, too.

While escorting Smith to the booking floor, he knocked one officer down, got inside an administrative office and tried to get through the window into the public area. He was pulled back but struggled with two other detention officers before he was subdued.

(c)2022 The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.)