Rainier shootout: Delay after delay after death

Police chief's family tries to wait patiently for justice

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photoAssociated Press files Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter, front, fills a doughnut order during a December 2010 fundraiser. Painter was killed Jan. 5, 2011.

RAINIER, Ore. -- It has been two years since Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter was fatally shot responding to a call in West Rainier, and yet there's no trial date in sight for the man accused of killing him.

"It's very frustrating," Painter's widow, Amy Painter, said last week. She figured by now there would at least be a trial scheduled, but the courts still are deciding whether Daniel Armaugh Butts is mentally competent to stand trial. The next hearing is set for February, but the matter has been postponed twice in the past three months.

"(Each new delay) is just a letdown," she said. "Every time they give us a date, you prepare yourself for it. And then usually they call just a couple of days beforehand and say it's been delayed."

Jeremy Howell, Painter's stepson and the eldest of Painter's six children, is a St. Helens, Ore., police officer. As a cop, Howell understands delays are common in court cases. As a son, though, it still gets to him. He figures it will be another year or so before there's a trial.

Painter, 55, died Jan. 5, 2011, while responding to a disturbance call at a stereo shop. Butts, now 23, of Kalama was taken into custody after a shootout with officers.

Hurdles in court

Butts has been in state custody ever since, but it took more than a year to get him to enter a not guilty plea because he disrupted a hearing and his lawyers questioned his mental fitness to assist them. After a mental competency hearing in late 2011, Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove ruled Butts was sane and faking mental illness to avoid trial.

But in April, Grove ordered Butts back to the state mental hospital in Salem for another evaluation after he stabbed himself in the head with a pencil and refused all medical treatment. He also refused to take anti-psychotic drugs prescribed by a doctor hired by his lawyers. The hearing on this second review is set for February.

The second mental competency review "was kind of out of left field," Howell said.

Professionally, he thinks Butts will be declared competent again. But personally, he worries.

"It sits in the back of my mind, that yeah, someone may come out and say he has some kind of mental disorder and that's what it all stemmed from," Howell said. "It bothers me."

But Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison has told Howell and Painter it's better to delay now and ensure all the rules are followed than have a conviction overturned on appeal and have to retry Butts several years later.

"It's frustrating, but I try to look at it as it will all go through and get done," Howell said. "It will just take a while."

They've been buoyed by the supportive community, though.

"It's good that everyone keeps remembering him," Painter said. "Just remembering Ralph and what he stood for and keeping his legacy alive."