Who is Daniel Butts?

Recently released mental health reports give glimpse into life, mind of accused murderer

From the The South County Spotlight, May 16, 2012

By many accounts, Daniel Butts is troubled.

But the question remains: Is the murder suspect mentally fit to face his charges in court? Butts’ competency to “aid and assist” in his defense – a legal requirement for trial proceedings to continue – will be determined by a judge following continuing evaluations at the state mental hospital.

Butts faces 24 charges, including aggravated murder – a crime that could carry the death penalty if convicted – for his alleged slaying of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter outside a car stereo shop on Jan. 5, 2011.

Recently released mental health reports give the most detailed public look yet at the 22-year-old Kalama, Wash., man.

The reports – based on numerous evaluations from mental health professionals in 2011 – were revealed April 30, nearly one year after lawyers for The Oregonian newspaper filed motions for the documents to be made available. Entire sections of the 74 pages of reports were redacted before entering the public record.

Because of Butts’ refusal to speak during multiple interviews with psychologists, much of the information contained in the reports is based on interviews with his family and others close to him.

The following are details revealed in numerous mental health evaluation reports from 2011:

Family history

* Butts was raised mostly by his biological father Mikel Butts in Washington, along with a younger sister, 18, and older brother, 26. He also reportedly has four half-siblings. In a Jan. 9, 2011, hospital interview video, mental health professionals used to gather information, Butts said his father and biological mother, who separated when he was 7, “don’t get along too well.” Mikel had full custody of the children while his mother provided child support.

* Butts’ mother told psychologists her family has a history of drug addiction, alcoholism and various mental disorders. She said she was diagnosed with manic depression in 1988. Two of her other sons – Butts’ stepbrothers – had experienced psychotic episodes and also “auditory hallucinations of ‘heaven and hell,’” she said. Neither she, nor Mikel Butts, said they knew where those two sons were at the time.

* During an October 2011 interview with Butts’ mother, psychiatrist Jerry Larsen noted the woman lived in a house without running water, heat or an indoor toilet. The outside of the property was apparently cluttered, as was the interior, with “books, magazines, a variety of articles piled floor to ceiling, leaving only a U-shaped path through the room.”

* Butts and his father also reportedly would wrestle to the point of causing noticeable injury to them both. Mikel Butts said his son was prone to anger and aggression just like him. “Like father, like son,” he said. Mikel Butts was reportedly court-ordered to participate in domestic violence treatment for undocumented reasons.

The months before

* Butts’ parents said their son had been exhibiting unusual behavior in the months leading to his arrest. His father said his son had difficulty obtaining employment after quitting his prior job when he was denied a raise. Butts also called his father “Mike” instead of the usual “Dad.” Mikel Butts said his son began to be “withdrawn and depressed.” The father also noted that Butts would need reminders to bathe and would lie “horizontal for days.” When Butts made a slight misjudgment while fixing a damaged headlight, Mikel Butts said his son began crying. At other times, Butts’ father said his son was laughing “too hard for the moment.”

* In mid- to late-December, Butts reportedly hit the family dog over the head with a splitting maul, causing lacerations, because, as his father recounts his son saying, “She was looking at me.”

* Butts’ mother said her son was disoriented and appeared to be under the influence of drugs in the short time before his arrest. After his arrest, Butts’ blood and urine were tested for drugs, but the results were negative. Numerous accounts indicate Butts was a marijuana user, and one of his Kalama friends told The Spotlight in early 2011 she did not believe he used harder drugs.

* Two days before the shooting, Butts reportedly entered his mother’s rural home near Rainier uninvited, taking off his clothes, lying down on her bed and beginning to masturbate, saying, “Mom, you want some of this?”

* Butts’ sister said while her brother was usually helpful, in 2010 he changed, refusing to assist her in changing a tire, for instance. During that time she said she told him she loved him, but the sister said he replied, “No you don’t.” She said her entire family recognized something was wrong with Butts in the months before the shooting, encouraging him to seek help, which he refused. She said he did confide to her that “something is wrong,” as he held his head in his hands.

* Mikel Butts said his son asked about taking ownership of the father’s ranch in late December 2010, as outlined in Mikel’s will. Mikel told interviewers he joked with his son that, “I’m not dead, yet.” Mikel said he felt threatened when Butts replied, “I should just kill you then.” The father said he removed him from that portion of the will the next day.

* Oregon State Hospital psychologist Brooke Howard said in a report – based on in-person observations of Butts, two interviews and reviews of recordings – she does not believe Butts was experiencing significant psychiatric symptoms in the weeks to months before his Jan. 5, 2011, arrest. She said it did appear he was “facing financial stressors, showing some erratic behaviors at times and distress after learning his former girlfriend was getting married.” She wrote he may have some biological predisposition to a “mood or psychotic disorder,” but there is not enough evidence to show he has a major mental illness in either the recent or * Psychiatrist Larsen disagrees, saying in his report “with reasonable medical certainty, Daniel Butts suffers from a serious mental illness, psychotic in nature, likely schizophrenic in type.”

After the arrest

* Butts appeared to be cooperative in the first few weeks after his incarceration, according to testimony. But following an arraignment on Jan. 26, 2011, he reportedly became oppositional and troublesome.

* That February, jail staff said Butts went on a brief hunger strike. During that time he also mostly stopped verbally communicating.

* In April 2011, Howard reported that Butts appeared to be adapting better to life in jail, with improved cooperation, compliance and demeanor. The psychologist pointed out those presumed improvements occurred without mental health services or psychotropic medications.

* Before his arrest, Butts was clean shaven and slender, but now sports an unkempt beard, long hair and appears much heavier.

* A female Columbia County Jail officer reported Butts put his penis through a slot on his cell door as she was serving breakfast.

* Butts developed an infection after he was found to be stabbing himself repeatedly in the head and neck with a pencil on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Painter’s slaying. Jail staff said he continually refused treatment for his lingering head wound. He also reportedly refused to take his prescribed psychotropic medication.

* For most of the last year, Butts’ attorneys said he repeatedly refused to interact with them. At his Feb. 8, 2012, court proceeding, Butts sat silent with his head facing the ground, refusing to respond when Judge Ted Grove asked for his plea. His attorneys pleaded “not guilty” on his behalf.