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San Antonio PD says cop faked shootout

Wednesday, November 01 2006 @ 01:43 PM CST

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Vianna Davila
Express-News Staff

Nearly a week after San Antonio Police Department officials opened an investigation into an officer who said he fired two shots at a rifle-wielding gunman, the officer resigned amid allegations he concocted the incident and could face criminal charges.

"He made up the entire episode," SAPD spokesman Sgt. Gabe Trevino told reporters Monday, characterizing the actions of traffic Officer Isreal Butler as violating the trust of his fellow officers and the community.

Officials also indicated that last week wasn't the first time Butler's credibility came into question: A year ago he was suspended for failing to arrest a suspect with an outstanding warrant; and two weeks ago he came under scrutiny for reporting that he received telephone death threats that officials believe he "quite possibly" called in himself, Trevino said.

Butler, 33, resigned Friday citing only personal reasons, said Robert Leonard, a staff attorney with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas appointed to represent the officer after last week's incident. Butler, a five-year member of the force, refused to comment Monday at his home and later through his attorney.

His resignation was the latest in a series of department personnel problems Police Chief William McManus has faced in his first six months in office. Among them was the fallout from the release of an internal audit detailing the mismanagement of a police computer system; the sudden resignation of an assistant chief in August after an incident in a motel room; and the emergence of accusations that the man McManus appointed to fill the vacancy had an instance of alleged sexual indiscretion in his own past.

In the Oct. 23 shooting incident, backup police units speeding to Butler's calls for help arrived at Texas 151 near Wiseman Boulevard only to find him clutching a handful of live rounds, Trevino said.

The rounds, Butler told them, came from the weapon of the rifle-wielding suspect, Trevino said. Butler said the man whistled to him from the elevated access road while the officer was in the process of issuing a traffic ticket to the driver of a white SUV, stopped along Texas 151, according to a police report.

When he looked up, Butler said he saw the gunman sitting in the passenger seat of a dark-colored SUV and pointing the rifle in his direction, the report said.

Citing fear for his life and the safety of others, Butler said he fired his service weapon twice at the man. The dark SUV sped off, Butler said, and he radioed for help.

Soon the scene swarmed with reporters, more officers, detectives and investigators. Police Chief McManus also was on hand, defending the officer's actions.

But almost as soon as Butler recounted the story, his account quickly began to unravel, Trevino said.

"It just didn't add up," Trevino said, who added that officials opened an internal administrative investigation and criminal probe immediately after the shooting.

The driver of the vehicle Butler stopped for the traffic violation said he didn't see a shooter, Trevino said.

To date, neither the dark-colored SUV nor a gunman has been found, Trevino said. Officials now believe Butler fired his weapon but they don't believe he had any target.

Investigators also alleged Butler produced the live rounds at the scene as "self-supporting evidence," according to Trevino.

When officials told Butler last week of their plans to file charges and place him on administrative leave pending the outcome, Butler chose to resign, according to Trevino.

"I think he obviously knew what was coming," Trevino said.

Investigators were also aware of Butler's report two weeks ago that he was receiving telephone death threats.

"We don't believe those threats are valid," said Trevino, who declined to go into specifics about how the calls involved Butler.

Before Monday, the most serious offense listed in Butler's civil service record was a two-day suspension in January 2005. In that incident, Butler was cited for making a traffic stop but failing to arrest a woman in the vehicle who had an outstanding municipal court warrant, the record showed.

Butler instead forfeited two days of compensation time and never served the suspension, his civil service record showed.

The internal administrative query will continue, Trevino said, but SAPD Intelligence plans to focus its attention on completing the criminal investigation.

All findings will be forwarded to the Bexar County district attorney's office, Trevino said.

"It's very disappointing," Trevino said. "We have officers as we speak making dangerous traffic stops."

Trevino on Monday emphasized the department's commitment to "aggressively pursue those allegations" against officers who they believe have violated the public's trust.

At the time of his resignation Friday, Butler was scheduled for transfer out of the traffic unit to the West Patrol dogwatch, or overnight shift, substation commander Capt. Cris Andersen said.

Both Trevino and Andersen were unsure why Butler had been transferred out of the traffic unit.

Andersen worked with Butler in the Crisis Response Unit, a mobile strike force team of officers who targeted high-crime areas across the city.

Upon learning that Butler had come under investigation and resigned, Andersen expressed disappointment.

"I consider it to be a loss to the department," Andersen said.

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