Fault Lines
25 April 2017

Salem Officer Brian Butler Gave In To Temptation

December 5, 2016 (Fault Lines) — To protect and serve. That’s the motto. But who protects those who find themselves at the mercy of the very officer who was supposed to protect them? Sometimes it’s a power trip for officers who teach inmates a lesson or two. Sometimes it’s acquiescence, or a consensual physical relationship. And sometimes, it’s just temptation.

Salem police officer Brian Butler admitted he simply “gave in to temptation” when he raped a man in a closet of the police station on Halloween. Interestingly, giving in to temptation seems to imply he may have been tempted before but didn’t act. Or perhaps this particular man was just that irresistible.

In a police report filed in court, authorities wrote that Salem police went to the Clipper Ship Inn on Bridge Street at about 3:07 a.m. on Oct. 31, where they found an intoxicated man wearing “soaking wet” clothing because he had flooded his motel room.

The man was taken into protective custody and driven to the police station, where he removed his clothes and fell asleep in a holding cell. Between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., the man was lying naked in his cell when Butler asked if he could do anything to help him. The man asked for a blanket, which Butler provided.

He also asked to use the telephone, and while standing outside the cell, Butler allegedly placed his hand around the man’s hip in a suggestive manner, asked whether he could touch the man’s genitals, and molested him, the report said.

After the man finished using the phone, he said, Butler took him to a broom closet near the booking room and cells and asked to perform oral sex on him, according to the statement.

Not to protect but to be served. Perhaps that’s Butler’s real motto.

Butler has entered a plea of not guilty to the charges of rape and indecent assault and battery. Additionally, he has indicated the encounter was consensual.

“The government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in this case that there was a lack of consent,” [Butler’s attorney] said outside court.

Consensual? Seriously? The man said yes, but he didn’t mean it. In his statement reporting the rape, the man told police he said yes out of fear. Butler was the one who could help him. Butler was the one who could harm him. Butler was the key to getting a blanket and using the phone. The man was at the mercy of his captor. Of course he said yes.

Massachusetts law criminalizes sexual relations between employees of penal and correctional institutions and the inmates under their control.* And specifically, the law states the inmate is deemed incapable of consenting to the relationship. Passed in 1999, this provision aimed to protect the inmate who is otherwise subject to control by the employee or guard. So consent is not an issue in these cases. Rightfully so, the officer or guard is held to a higher standard and is not allowed to take advantage of those he is supposed to protect.

In this case, it’s unclear why consent is an issue. Well, to be fair, Butler is charged with rape – an offense where consent is an issue. Perhaps this is because the Massachusetts law criminalizing sexual relations doesn’t consider the city jail or police station to be a penal or correctional institution. Of course this makes no sense. Those jailed in a local cell at the police station are no less vulnerable and subject to abuse. The dynamic between a local police officer and an arrestee or detainee is no different than that of one who is otherwise incarcerated.

While the media is more concerned that Butler happens to be married to Salem Police Chief Mary Butler, perhaps they should be more concerned with why consent is an issue. Yes, the man could have said no. He might have been left naked and freezing on a cell floor. He might have been physically abused. He might have been denied the use of the phone. He might have been denied food. So many vulnerabilities for the man. He was already in custody, and it could only get worse. Consent should not be an issue. The law should protect all those who find themselves in custody.

* Mass. Gen. Laws c. 268 § 21A

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