Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

Arrest refocuses spotlight on police

Baldwin chief’s son faces charges of theft, burglary

March 14, 2002


— A new dark cloud settled over the Baldwin Police Department this week when the chief's son was charged with burglary and theft.

Shawn Butell, 22, Baldwin, was arrested Monday by Douglas County Sheriff's officers on one count of burglary, one count of felony theft and two counts of misdemeanor theft. He is the son of Baldwin Police Chief Steve Butell.

One of the three businesses allegedly robbed Heritage Tractor Inc. is owned by Baldwin City Councilman Ken Wagner.

It is the second time Shawn Butell has been charged with stealing from Heritage Tractor. In September 2000 he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft and was placed on probation for one year.

Chief Butell would not comment about the charges against his son.

Shawn Butell's arrest was the latest in a rash of incidents during the past several months that have focused attention on the eight-man department.

Last summer, Baldwin Police Officer Glendon Rhea was arrested by sheriff's officers for driving under the influence of alcohol. He later entered a diversion program to avoid prosecution. He has since resigned from the force.

Rhea already had been suspended while the Kansas Highway Patrol investigated possible department improprieties.

The investigation later identified Rhea as having abused access to a computer used to conduct criminal background checks. In fact, the entire department had to undergo retraining in the use of the computer. The department's direct access to the computer system was cut off by the state during that retraining.

The investigation also focused on other department policies and procedures resulting in one- to three-day suspensions of three officers and the chief. Other officers were reprimanded. Specific reasons for the punishments were never released.

Road to improvement

City Administrator Larry Paine said steps have since been taken to improve the department. There have been changes to the department's policies and procedure manual and better communication among police officers and with city officials, Paine said.

Wagner agreed. But, he said, problems with Butell's son aside, he was unsure about keeping Steve Butell as chief. Butell has been the city's police chief since 1990.

"I don't think his job is in jeopardy because the majority of the council is behind him," Wagner said. But, "I have some concern about his ability to handle the job."

Mayor Ken Hayes also expressed doubts about Butell's ability to handle the job. He said he was not satisfied with the department's attempt to move beyond the recent problems. As for Steve Butell's job security, the mayor said he does not have a vote in the matter unless it is to break a tie.

Hayes declined to say how he would vote if it came to that.

Hayes, Paine and other council members agreed Shawn Butell's arrest should not be held against his father.

"It really has nothing to do with him being the police chief," Paine said.

Council member Todd Cohen said the department is heading in the right direction but still has a ways to go with its improvements.

Investigation of thefts

In addition to Heritage Tractor, Shawn Butell is charged with burglary at Baldwin Feed Co. and taking tools from the business.

Additionally, he is accused of stealing lumber from Icon Builders and stealing gas and lights from Heritage Tractor.

Also charged is Jonathan Carpenter, 20, Baldwin.

Both Shawn Butell and Carpenter are free on $1,500 bond and are to appear March 27 in Douglas County Court.

Investigations into the burglaries were begun by the Baldwin Police. The Sheriff's Office then took over most of the investigation, Sheriff Rick Trapp said.

"Steve was not involved in the investigation," Trapp said. "I made sure nothing was done by any party to compromise the investigation."

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