Ruling: Duluth police officer justified in using deadly forceDuluth Police Sgt. Brad Wick used justifiable force when he shot and killed robbery suspect Brian Cayce Butala on Aug. 28, according to findings released Wednesday by St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin. “It would be hard to imagine a case in which deadly force would be more justifiable,” Rubin said of the case. He praised Wick for demonstrating “admirable judgment” and displaying “courage and valor of the highest order and tradition of law enforcement.”
By: By Peter Passi, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Duluth Police Sgt. Brad Wick used justifiable force when he shot and killed robbery suspect Brian Cayce Butala on Aug. 28, according to findings released Wednesday by St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin.
“It would be hard to imagine a case in which deadly force would be more justifiable,” Rubin said of the case. He praised Wick for demonstrating “admirable judgment” and displaying “courage and valor of the highest order and tradition of law enforcement.”
Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay walked through the events that led up to the shooting, beginning with the Aug. 27 robbery of a Walgreens store at 1301 E. Superior St.
A surveillance camera showed Butala, age 31, robbing the store’s pharmacy at gunpoint at 7:10 p.m. He demanded all the Opana on hand. Opana is a narcotic pain reliever that produces effects similar to morphine.
The pharmacist return-ed with a small quantity of the drug but Butala, brandishing a handgun, accused her of holding out. The pharmacist made three trips to the safe containing the drug, according to Rubin’s report.
The pharmacist described Butala’s demeanor as calm and “almost flirty,” the report said.
The pharmacist inform-ed Butala that he was being recorded on surveillance equipment. But Butala responded by telling her he “had nothing to lose.”
Upon leaving the store, Ramsay said, Butala proceeded to steal a car from a motorist, again at gunpoint, in the nearby parking lot of the Continental Ski Shop. Ramsay noted that the suspect committed two armed robberies within several minutes.
The following evening police received a tip that Butala was going to be at Hugo’s Pizza in Gary-New Duluth. He was observed in the restaurant with a woman and left with her about 10:30 p.m. in the 2002 silver Infiniti that had been reported stolen.
A squad car intercepted the vehicle about four blocks from the restaurant, and a chase ensued. The pursuit ended when the car crashed into a tree and house at 102nd Avenue West and West Dickson Street.
Butala and his female companion, Amy Jean Sternal, 26, fled the vehicle on foot and gained entrance to a nearby home by pounding on a backdoor and shouting: “Help! It’s an emergency!” Rubin’s report said.
The drowsy resident came to the door, opened it and was soon knocked to the floor. She believes one of the intruders discharged a weapon when entering, causing a bullet wound to her upper leg.
Wick and Officer Steve Ring heard the ruckus and observed Butala and Sternal entering the house. Wick followed.
Ramsay said Wick later explained he was concerned that, without quick intervention, the intrusion could turn into a hostage situation.
According to the report, Wick shouted, “Police!” as he made his way through the kitchen of the residence. As he turned a corner to enter the home’s living room, he reportedly saw Butala point a gun toward him and observed a muzzle flash. He returned fire and then briefly ducked behind a plaster archway while Butala continued to shoot.
Wick stepped back into the room and fired a second volley of shots. He said he believed Butala had been wounded when he heard him grunt and saw him begin to sink to his knees. But the suspect was still pointing his gun in Wick’s direction.
Wick ducked behind the archway again and yelled, “Drop your weapon!” Upon re-emerging, Wick said Butala was on his knees but still pointing his gun at him, and he fired a final volley of shots, causing the suspect to fall face-down.
Ramsay said investigators also had received some information that Butala had discussed taking his own life.
Wick was found to have fired 12 shots to Butala’s three. But Ramsay noted the suspect had another loaded handgun in his possession as well.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he wanted to kill Sgt. Wick,” Ramsay said.
“In my opinion, 12 rounds is not a lot, given the circumstances and the close range,” he said.
Ramsay said Wick acted to protect his own life as well as others’.
“We don’t pay police officers to take a bullet,” he said.
Wick is a 26-year veteran of the Police Department; he returned to duty about a week after the shooting.
Butala had a lengthy criminal record that included charges of first-degree burglary, felon in possession of a firearm, car theft, making terroristic threats and several misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor assault. Most recently, a warrant had been issued for his arrest on charges of second-degree assault with a weapon, domestic assault, assault by strangulation and violation of a no-contact order.
Sternal faces several felony charges, including theft of a motor vehicle, receiving stolen property, fleeing in a motor vehicle, aiding an offender to avoid arrest and two counts of burglary in the first degree.
Peter Passi is a reporter at the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.