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Man arrested for illegally releasing Grand Prairie cobra, police say

A person who intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence releases a regulated snake from captivity is committing a Class A Misdemeanor.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — Police officers have arrested a man for illegally releasing a West African Banded Cobra, which is still missing, into the public last summer, according to the Grand Prairie Police Department.

On Friday, Grand Prairie police arrested 23-year-old Lawrence Matl in the 1800 block of Cherry Street without incident. This is east of Turner Park in Grand Prairie.

In August, Grand Prairie Animal Services warned the public that a venomous snake was reported missing from a resident's home. As of Matl's arrest Friday, the cobra has not been located.

Officers arrested Matl on a warrant for allegedly violating Parks and Wildlife Code 43.853, a Class A Misdemeanor that involves illegally releasing a specific type of snake.

“It was a caging malfunction,” Matl explained last year.

At the time of the initial search for the snake, Matl identified himself to reporters as Trey Mat. Neighbors said that’s another name the man regularly uses.

“I’m doing everything I can to help retrieve this snake,” Matl said back in 2020.

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In reference to the code Matl is accused of violating, a person who intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence releases a regulated snake from captivity is committing a Class A Misdemeanor, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. This can be punishable by a fine between $500-$4,000. It can also lead to up to one year in jail.

Snakes that are considered "regulated" Texas Parks and Wildlife include non-indigenous venomous snakes and the following constrictors: African rock python, Asiatic rock python, green anaconda, reticulated python, and southern African python.

Along Cherry Street in Grand Prairie, some neighbors said the reality of an exotic cobra still missing after six months still has them on edge.

“You still have to walk around very carefully, and keep an eye out,” said Rodolfo Barceleau.

Some neighbors were shocked learning of Matl’s arrest.

Animal experts say the likelihood of the snake still being in the area, or even alive, is significantly less than it was when it was first reported missing. Recent freezing temperatures and the unknowns of whether the snake was able to find shelter are factors.

”This is an extremely shy animal. They’re not considered aggressive towards humans. They’re not afraid of people. If this animal has a choice, it will hide and stay hidden as long as possible,” said Tommy Owens, zoological manager of ectotherms at Dallas Zoo. 

For now, some neighbors along Cherry Street continue keeping snake traps near their homes.

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Matl is currently being held at the Grand Prairie Detention Center with his bond set at $10,000.

Officials are warning residents who live in the area and see any type of snake believed to be the missing cobra to avoid the snake and call 911 immediately. They added that residents should not attempt to capture the snake, either.

Grand Prairie police said they have been in contact with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department related to policy and procedures on the permitting of venomous snakes in residential areas.

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