The police officer who shot and wounded a panhandler at a Walmart Neighborhood Market on Friday will be the subject of a criminal investigation.
There’s no indication the man shot was armed at any time. He was running away from the officer when shot, police have said. Court records indicate that the man has been diagnosed with mental illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Springfield officials have previously said that the officer, who has been with the Springfield police 11 years, is on administrative leave.
He was named Monday as Jason Shuck. Last year, Shuck was commended for disarming a suicidal man with a shotgun.
“Of course we have concerns,” said Cindi Keele, the executive director of NAMI Missouri, the Missouri organization for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It does seem overkill to shoot someone who is running away from you.”
The panhandler, Eric David Butts, who was wanted on warrants, was shot once, said Chief Paul Williams, who held a press conference on the shooting at noon. The officer fired his weapon one time, the chief said.
The city police will investigate the matter themselves, the chief said. Many times, the Missouri State Highway Patrol is brought in when police agencies have an issue develop within their own ranks.
Williams is the first Springfield police chief to not have the highway patrol shadow an internal investigation into a police shooting. Williams said the police has a “very well-trained and experienced” investigative unit.
Shuck’s 2013 meritorious service award from the police department stemmed from a July 16, 2012 incident. The man he disarmed had a shotgun in his mouth. Shuck holds a Class A peace officer license with the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission.
Springfield’s policy on police use of force says that police may use lethal force only when an officer “reasonably believes that the action is in the defense of human life.” Firing a gun at someone is generally considered lethal force.
The policy, which was effective Dec. 31, 2013, says police may use lethal force to prevent the escape of a violent fleeing felon only if the suspect “poses a clear and immediate threat to public safety if not apprehended without delay.” Some examples cited by the policy are a serial murderer or rapist or a suspect who has used a deadly weapon to escape.
Springfield’s policy defines a violent felon as a person who has been identified as participating in the commission or attempt of a murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated assault, kidnapping or armed robbery. Butts’ criminal record consists of receiving stolen property and the burglary conviction.
Butts, 26, was shot about noon Friday.
Tim Dalton, the boyfriend of Butts’ stepmother, Michelle Butts, said they’ve been told Eric Butts is in stable condition, that he was shot in the buttocks and the bullet “nicked his intestine.”
Police have said that Butts was wanted on warrants and is a convicted burglar but have not offered any information about why the officer shot him. Police have also not given the officer’s specific account of the shooting.
Butts’ family members have stressed that Butts is mentally disabled. His neighbors along Monroe Terrace in Springfield have complained about him being disruptive and threatening and say he has often been the subject of complaints to police.
Court records indicate that Butts has been on mental health medications since he was 3. He told an investigator that he was abused by his mother and in various group and foster homes. Court records say he said his mother lost custody of him after she tried to drown him, hang him and left him on freeways.
The house where Butts lives with his girlfriend, Ashley Cook, in the 1900 block of East Monroe Terrace is in a “special needs trust” in his name, according to the Greene County assessor’s office. A police report from September about a residential burglary there described the interior of the home as filthy with a badly cluttered exterior. Upon the News-Leader’s request, the police department released other reports about Butts’ address that included a stolen lawn mower and accusations that Butts had stolen electricity from a neighbor because his electricity was turned off.
Cook said she called Butts shortly before the shooting Friday. When she called again at 12:30 p.m., no one answered the phone. Cook said that when she went to the hospital, Mercy Hospital Springfield, hospital employees wouldn’t even tell her if he was there.
“It’s frustrating, very frustrating,” Cook said.
Chief Williams on Monday reiterated that family cannot visit someone in protective custody.
Steve Ijames, a former assistant police chief in Springfield who now is a consultant on police force issues, said a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case that defines reasonable use of force by police applies in cases like Butts’. That case says that the reasonableness of use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with 20/20 hindsight.
“The standard for police is not that they be perfect or that they be correct but that they be reasonable,” Ijames said. “… In the split second that the event is occurring, it’s not reasonable to expect an officer to be clairvoyant.”
News-Leader reporter Stephen Herzog contributed to this story.