Trooper Paul Butterfield
Trooper Paul Butterfield
Photo credit: Michigan State Police
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The shooting death of a Michigan State Police trooper in Mason County served as a reminder to law enforcement officers of the danger that lurks even in a seemingly standard traffic stop.
Trooper Paul Butterfield died Monday during emergency surgery at Munson Medical Center. He stopped a vehicle at 6:20 p.m. in Sherman Township and three minutes later a motorist called 911 to report that a trooper had been shot in the head.
"I don't believe anyone would believe for a second on Sept. 9 that a routine traffic stop would be his last," said Capt. Robert Lesneski, commander of the state police's seventh district headquarters in Traverse City.
Police procedure may have helped track down a suspect -- Butterfield reported the vehicle's license plate number to dispatch before the shooting. State police used the information to track a suspect to Manistee County and a Wellston gas station/convenience store at about 8:30 p.m.
Police shot a male suspect after he pointed a handgun at an approaching trooper. Police transported the suspect to the hospital for a "non-life threatening wound." Authorities arrested a female suspect. Authorities haven't released the suspects' names.
Butterfield was a veteran of the U.S. Army before he became a trooper in 1999. He spent most of his career in Manistee and recently elected to serve in the Hart post.
Lesneski said state police are wearing black "mourning bands" that symbolize the loss of a member of the law enforcement family. He said he knew Butterfield from Manistee and he was still trying to understand the shooting.
"Trooper Butterfield did not make it home last night. It's hard to put that in words," he said. "There's a lot of bottled-up emotions. Law enforcement in general is a very dangerous job and we face those situations daily."
Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel said Butterfield often made it up to Benzie County on police matters. He said his deputies and other law enforcement officers across the state are "heartbroken."
"The bottom line is this: You just don't know who you're stopping," he said. "It could be a law-abiding citizen or somebody who can take out a weapon and shoot and kill you. You just never know."
Lt. Kip Belcher, assistant commander of the state police Cadillac Post, said the incident was a reminder to all law enforcement that they "remain constantly vigilant."
"This type of horrific situation that unfolds is the basis of officers conducting traffic stops in the way they do where they're careful, deliberate and pay attention to the occupants of the car," he said. "If you're not vigilant, diligent and attentive there are occasions where extremely negative things occur."
But he added that "in this case it does seem the trooper did do those things."
Gov. Rick Snyder said Butterfield was the victim of a "senseless incident."
"A tragic event like this shakes us all, but it also bolsters our resolve to make our streets and our neighborhoods safer," Snyder said in a statement.
"Tonight we lost a hero," state police director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue said in a statement. "The entire MSP family, as well as our greater law enforcement family, mourns alongside the Butterfields. Trooper Butterfield's sacrifice will never be forgotten. May he rest in peace."
Butterfield is the 51st state police trooper to die in the line of duty.
Copyright 2013 - The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service