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Duluth police sergeant finds peace, honor after fatal shootout

Some days Duluth police Sgt. Brad Wick walks from his house to the Willard Munger bike trail and rips off a three- to five-mile run while reflecting on the night he had to shoot and kill a man.

Sgt. Brad Wick
Sgt. Brad Wick of the Duluth Police Department holds the medal of valor he received for saving a woman's life during an incident in August involving a gunman. (2012 file / Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Some days Duluth police Sgt. Brad Wick walks from his house to the Willard Munger bike trail and rips off a three- to five-mile run while reflecting on the night he had to shoot and kill a man.

"Even eight months later, you play it over," Wick said. "Four or five times a week when it's coming back to me, it's good to really think about it and run it out.

"I've probably thought through that thing 1,000 times since then. Actually the way it happened is the way it needed to happen. The female was shot, but her life was saved. My partner, Steve Ring, didn't get shot. It's unfortunate that Mr. Butala was killed, but he gave me no choice in that."

Wick made those comments Wednesday at the new police headquarters on Arlington Avenue after he received the Duluth Police Department's highest honor -- the Medal of Valor, which is awarded to an officer who has performed an act displaying exceptional courage and extraordinary heroism while facing imminent or potentially imminent peril without regard to personal risk.

Last week, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association named Wick Officer of the Year for the heroism he displayed in Duluth last summer. Wick, 51, is a native of Ely and a 26-year veteran of the department. He supervises the K-9 unit.

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On Aug. 27, Brian Butala reportedly robbed the Walgreens store at 1301 E. Superior St. Butala, 31, had 17 criminal cases filed against him, including five in the four months before the incident in which he lost his life. He had spent time in a correctional facility and told police that he didn't want to return to one.

On Aug. 28, police spotted Butala's vehicle and a chase ensued. The chase ended when the suspect's vehicle crashed into a house at 102nd Avenue West and Dickson Street. The woman driving the vehicle and Butala ran to a nearby house on the 1400 block of 102nd Avenue West.

A female resident said she opened the door and was knocked to the floor. She said one of the intruders discharged a firearm causing a non-life-threatening bullet wound to her upper leg.

According to St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin's report of the incident, Wick entered the residence and shouted "Police!" As he turned a corner to enter the home's living room, he reportedly saw Butala point a gun toward him and the officer saw a muzzle flash. He returned the fire and then briefly ducked behind a plaster archway while Butala continued to shoot.

Wick stepped back into the room and fired a second volley. He said he believed Butala had been wounded when he heard him grunt and saw him begin to sink to his knees. But the suspect was still pointing his gun in Wick's direction.

Wick ducked behind the archway again and yelled, "Drop your weapon!" Upon re-emerging, Wick said Butala was on his knees but still pointing his gun at him, and he fired a final volley of shots, causing the suspect to fall face-down.

The officer fired 12 shots from his Smith & Wesson Military and Police .40 caliber handgun. Butala fired three and had another loaded handgun in his possession. Butala later died from his injuries. Wick wasn't injured.

In honoring Wick, Duluth police Lt. Jeff Kazel quoted from the comments Rubin made in September when he determined that Wick was justified in using deadly force. "It would be hard to imagine a case in which deadly force would be more justifiable," Rubin said at the time. Rubin praised Wick for demonstrating "admirable judgment" and displaying "courage and valor of the highest order and tradition of law enforcement."

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Friends, relatives and fellow officers gave Wick a standing ovation when he was presented his medal.

"To be honored by the people who you work with, with the highest level of award that we have ... I'm in awe," Wick said after the ceremony. "It was unfortunate circumstances that got me this award, but I'm very honored and proud of it.

"It's one of those things that if you told me that I was ever in my career going to be in a shootout with somebody face-to-face, 10 feet apart from each other I would have said, 'No way.' But the training definitely kicked in. From returning fire, and going for cover, everything was in slow motion. I saw the muzzle flashes, but I have no audio of all of those gunshots."

Wick said he briefly considered retiring after the shooting. "Honestly now, I'm really happy where I'm at," he said.

Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said Wick is a special member of his department in many ways.

"What makes Brad so great is that he is a class act," Ramsay said. "He's a very humble guy. He mentors our new cops. He helps people out. It's great to see good guys be recognized."

Other awards presented Wednesday were:

  • Police officer of the Year: Angela Robertson.
  • Investigator of the Year: Jeanine Pauly.
  • Supervisor of the Year: Peter Nielsen.
  • Civilian support staff Employee of the Year: Becky Isackson.
  • Chief's Police-Citizen Partnership Award: Charles Nelson.
  • Commendations were presented to Officer Shana Greene, Officer Joe Miketin, Sgt. Chuck O'Connor, Officer Tony Radloff, Officer Jim Rodman, Sgt. Gayle Holton, Officer Steve Ring and Pauly.
  • Promotions: Ann Clancey and Tim Jazdzewski to lieutenant; Jeremy Graves, Mike LaFontaine, Laura Marquardt and Tom Stolee to sergeant.
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