Did medication play a role in Seth Brigham’s behavior and arrests?

Seth Brigham
Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

Seth Brigham, the longtime political gadfly who recently relocated to Milwaukee following his victory over Boulder City Council’s (with the exception of Lisa Morzel) attempt to place him under a permanent restraining order, is returning to Boulder.

Brigham’s return is temporary, and is in response to his impending court date stemming from two separate incidents that occurred over a four-day period in September. Those incidents resulted in Brigham being arrested and charged with criminal trespass, harassment and indecent exposure.

By his own admission, Brigham has long suffered from manic depression and, as a result, can be a bit over the top in his behavior. You may recall that he sent literally hundreds of requests for information to city officials concerning city council members’ improper financial disclosure forms. He was once removed from a council meeting for wearing boxer shorts and often used profanity, rude comments and rude gestures when addressing members of the council. Brigham even ran for city council at one point to show people that those who suffer with mental illness can accomplish anything. In his last appearance before city officials — subsequent to his courtroom victory on the restraining order — he appeared at a council meeting wearing headphones, singing a Bob Dylan song and doing a celebratory somersault.

All of these actions are, by most standards, a bit odd. But the behavior exhibited by Brigham this past September, the behavior that led to being arrested twice and resulted in his upcoming date with a judge scheduled for Nov. 2, were not like his other antics. They were darker, more serious. They were, for lack of a better description, very over the top for a man whose everyday behavior was already considered so.

The question is, why did Brigham suddenly behave in such an alarming way when he had not done so in recent history? There may be a reason.

September’s manic episode

According to both Brigham and police report accounts, the behaviors in question began on Sept. 11, around 4:30 p.m. Police arrived at Brigham’s apartment complex on 20th Street in response to a complaint that someone had tried to force his way into an apartment.

Brigham was agitated when police arrived, and he immediately told them he was having a manic episode and that the episode had been going on since Sept. 8, the day he returned to Boulder from a visit with his brother in Greece.

Brigham told police that people in the complex had been “messing with him” and he suspected that they had been tampering with his windows and possibly entering his apartment. The police report also states that Brigham told the officer that he wasn’t sure if it was really happening or if he was just paranoid. In addition, Brigham told police that he was very upset because he had been waiting all day for building maintenance to come and change the locks on his apartment door. In short, Brigham was in rough shape mentally.

According to the police report, the complex’s maintenance man claimed he had already changed the locks the previous day and that, despite this fact, Brigham had called 10 times on Sept. 11, demanding that his locks be changed.

At some point, according to Brigham, he decided that one of his neighbors in particular had been breaking into his apartment, so Brigham went to that neighbor’s door and began knocking and kicking until it was opened. The two persons inside told Brigham he had to leave, and when they tried to shut the door, Brigham admits he put his foot between the door and the jam to keep it from closing so he could continue to talk to the people inside. The pair eventually forced the door closed and called police.

The officers spoke with several of Brigham’s neighbors, and a number of them complained about his behavior. The police then asked Brigham to leave the complex and stay with a friend, which he did.

At that point, Officer Ryan Briscoe went to the district attorney’s office to inquire if the DA intended to press charges against Brigham for sticking his foot in the door, considering his current manic state and his mental illness in general. Mike Foote of the DA’s office reviewed the case and affirmed that that the DA’s office would proceed with charges against Brigham for first-degree trespass, even though he had not actually entered his neighbor’s apartment.

Briscoe then called Brigham at 8:20 that night and told him that he had to turn himself in at the jail, or Briscoe could come and take Brigham into custody where he was. Brigham asked if he could be placed in a halfway house that could help him with his mental illness. The request was denied, and Brigham was told that he could only be released after he was booked and fingerprinted at the jail, which is eventually what occurred.

The second, and more serious, incident occurred four days later, on Sept. 15. Officers responded to a call of a naked man yelling and throwing things at the same complex on 20th Street. It was Brigham.

Brigham appeared angry and agitated when police arrived, and he told them that he woke up and thought that someone had stolen his iPad. He saw people walking by his apartment, so he jumped out the window, naked, and confronted the passersby regarding his iPad. They mocked him and walked on. Brigham then started shouting at his upstairs neighbors from the lawn below their window. When he reentered the building, according to those neighbors, who had come out the front door of their apartment, Brigham made a rude physical gesture towards them as well as a sexually explicit statement.

Police later found Brigham’s iPad in his apartment. The police report describes Brigham’s speech as “extremely disjointed, and he seemed to have difficulty staying on topic.” There was a smashed fan and chair in Brigham’s apartment, and according to the police report, Brigham told them, “I did that, but it’s OK now.” Brigham kept telling the police that his landlord, the groundskeeper and several of his neighbors all had master keys that would allow them to break into his apartment and steal his belongings. Brigham was in worse shape than he had been four days earlier, during his first arrest.

Brigham was arrested, jailed and charged with “harassment-obscene language” and indecent exposure. It was the final straw in a bizarre four days for Seth Brigham … and his neighbors.

So why did Brigham suddenly begin to behave in this manner? There are likely a couple of explanations.

First, extreme stress. According to Brigham and a letter dated Oct. 9 from his psychiatrist during the past 22 years, Jed Shapiro, it has been approximately five years since Brigham last had a manic episode similar to the one that hit him in September. Brigham says that episode occurred when his mother passed away, and that her death was a really difficult time for him.

As for his September manic episode, Brigham believes it came about as a result of the stress he felt from the city placing him under a temporary restraining order, and the court case he had to fight for months to prevent the temporary order from becoming permanent. Brigham believed that a permanent restraining order would have ended his life as he had known it. He correctly understood that such an order would have put an end to his appearances before city council as well as his ability to continue his unpaid occupation as one of Boulder’s premier political gadflies, a role he cherished and in which he found much of his personal fulfillment.

While the stress of fighting the city may have led to Brigham’s September manic episode, it may have been his attempt to treat that episode that resulted in his increasingly bizarre behavior and resulting arrests.

In the police report from the trespass incident on Sept. 11, Brigham told the officers that he had been taking the medications Ativan and Seroquel since 2007. He also told them that he had just started taking the powerful anti psychotic drug Prolixin that day.

The police, and presumably the DA’s office, seemed to understand the potential ramifications of this new-medication disclosure. Later that night when Brigham appeared at the jail, the follow-up police report states that he was told that he could be booked, fingerprinted and then released for two reasons. First, the jail was full, and second, he had just started taking the new medication.

Anti-psychotic drugs are powerful and can be unpredictable, particularly when first being taken. In some instances, they have been known to cause those taking them to become agitated and/or aggressive. They have also been known, though rarely, to cause hallucinations, confusion and even changes in sexual drive. It is nearly impossible to know how a person with a mental illness will react to a particular anti-psychotic when first prescribed. It depends on many factors, including what other medications are already being taken as well as what state the patient is in at the time. But for Brigham, the potential impact of his new medications was just beginning on Sept. 11.

Getting arrested only exacerbated Brigham’s manic episode. As a result, according to an interview conducted with Brigham on Oct. 11, a month after his first arrest, he sought out still more medication at the Mental Health Partners crisis center. Brigham says that he was given three tablets of yet another powerful anti-psychotic drug called Haldol, which he started taking. Mental Health Partners was contacted by BW but would only confirm that it cannot comment on any particular client. At one point Brigham told a friend who was interviewed by BW that he had lost track of how many Haldol he had taken, and was afraid he had had too many. A few weeks later, Brigham told BW that he had taken two of the Haldol and then thrown away the third. He also acknowledged this week that his memory and timeline around the time of his arrests in September is still a bit hazy.

In any case, Brigham going on and off the powerful anti-psychotic drugs Prolixin and Haldol during the four days that he was arrested twice should be significant in his upcoming case. Both drugs can have severe side effects, particularly when initially taken. Though rare, both can cause the patient to exhibit extreme agitation, aggression and confusion, the traits that appear to be reflected in both police reports concerning Brigham’s arrests. The two drugs are also in conflict with one another medically speaking. Drugs.com lists the use of Prolixin and Haldol together as having a “major interaction.” Major interactions are defined as “highly clinically significant. Avoid combination; the risk of interaction outweighs the benefit.”

In addition, the Seroquel that Brigham had been taking since 2007 is a drug that has a “moderate conflict” with both Prolixin and Hadol.

And finally, the makers of both Prolixin and Haldol warn against taking and then stopping the use of the drugs cold turkey. For Brigham, the four days beginning Sept. 11 and ending Sept. 15 were four days of anti-psychotic drug confusion. Did the new drugs he was starting, stopping and taking inadvisably account for his illegal behavior and subsequent arrests? No one can answer that question with any certainty, but neither can it be discounted.

Seth Brigham suffers from mental illness. What we know is that his behavior took a decided turn for the worse at exactly the same time that he claims he began taking, mixing and stopping the use of these powerful anti-psychotic medications. It is either a remarkable coincidence, or the two circumstances are connected.

What we don’t know yet is what weight the DA’s office and the judge will give to these new facts in Brigham’s case.

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