Crime & Courts

Fairbanks police officer arrested on assault charges stemming from July family gathering

A Fairbanks police detective was arrested Friday on multiple assault charges related to a physical altercation that occurred at a family gathering in July, according to Alaska State Troopers.

In the early hours of July 5, troopers responded to reports of a domestic violence disturbance at a cabin on Harding Lake, south of Salcha.

“An on-going investigation revealed off-duty Fairbanks Police Officer Gerrit Butler, age 36 of Fairbanks, assaulted an adult male family member,” troopers said in a report Saturday. “Butler caused serious injuries to the family member.”

Butler was arrested and remanded to Fairbanks Correctional Center on Friday on two felony counts of second-degree assault and one misdemeanor count of fourth-degree assault, according to troopers.

Butler was placed on paid administrative leave Friday afternoon and had been performing his usual detective duties up until then, said Teal Soden, a Fairbanks city spokesperson. He has been a police officer since August 2016, when he first joined the Fairbanks Police Department, Soden said.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Butler wasn’t charged in the case until Nov. 26, nearly five months after the alleged assault. Separate charging documents show that Butler’s brother-in-law — Aaron Vogel, age 30 of Palmer, who Butler is accused of assaulting and who was taken to the hospital for his injuries — was charged with assault in July related to the altercation. Online court records Saturday showed the case against Vogel remains open.

Troopers did not immediately respond Saturday to questions about the investigation.

Charging documents filed against Butler this week contain conflicting information from people involved in the case about what happened that day.

Trooper David Bozman wrote in a sworn affidavit that around 2 a.m. July 5, troopers responded to the cabin on Harding Lake after 911 calls were made by Butler and Vogel. Butler had called troopers and said that Vogel attacked Butler’s sister, the affidavit said.

When troopers arrived at the scene, an ambulance had already arrived and was in the process of taking Vogel to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment of his injuries, according to the affidavit.

Butler told the responding officers that Vogel had been drinking and repeatedly challenged Butler and another family member to fight. Butler “advised that he feared that he would be hit at any moment with how (Vogel) was posturing up to him,” Bozman wrote in the affidavit.

Butler told Trooper Jacob Ianacone at the scene that Vogel pushed Butler’s sister, who hit the cabin wall, and that’s when Butler tackled Vogel and punched him in the face about three to five times. Butler’s sister and her husband also told troopers that Vogel pushed her, according to the affidavit, and Butler said Vogel tried to hit him but missed.

Vogel told a different trooper at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital that he and Butler had argued, and as he went to leave and walked by Butler’s sister, Butler then jumped on him and got him into a lateral vascular neck restraint, telling him to go sleep, according to the affidavit. Vogel said Butler then hit him 30 to 40 times, and once he stopped, Vogel was able to go to a neighbor to call 911, according to the affidavit.

Vogel was charged with four counts of fourth-degree assault and two counts of disorderly conduct — all misdemeanors — and he was arrested after he was released from the hospital, Trooper Ianacone wrote in a sworn affidavit dated July 5 filed against Vogel. Butler was not charged at the time.

The following day, on July 6, Vogel contacted troopers with concerns about injuries sustained during the altercation, Trooper Bozman wrote in the affidavit filed against Butler. Troopers arranged for Vogel to undergo a forensic examination at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

During an interview, Vogel denied pushing or making any contact with Butler’s sister. Vogel said that he “thought he was going to lose consciousness” while Butler was holding his neck, before Butler started punching him, the affidavit said.

According to the affidavit, Vogel’s injuries as observed by Trooper Bozman on July 6 included: bruising across most of his face, behind his ears and the back of his neck; a black eye that was swollen mostly shut; abrasions on the top of his head, neck, arms and legs; and missing teeth. Vogel also said he had a fractured orbital bone.

Vogel also said his neck “was tender along the front center near his trachea, he was still feeling dizzy, it was painful to (breathe) and has been painful to swallow since the incident,” the affidavit said.

The forensic nurse who examined Vogel reported that his injuries “could have been caused by a strangulation event,” according to the affidavit. But in the earlier charging documents filed against Vogel in July, Trooper Ianacone wrote that Vogel “had injuries to his face (a swollen right eye and other bruising) that were not consistent with being strangled and punched 30-40 times.” No other injuries were noted in those charges.

In a follow-up interview in early November, Trooper Bozman observed that two of Vogel’s teeth were still broken and his eye had a noticeable droop, according to the charging documents filed against Butler.

Butler, during a follow-up interview, denied strangling or choking Vogel, according to the charges against Butler. He said that he had been training in jiujitsu and mixed martial arts for 18 years.

Butler said he and others at the cabin had been drinking the night of the altercation, that his altercation with Vogel came in response to Vogel pushing Butler’s sister and that he did not mean to hurt Vogel, according to the charges filed against him.

“Multiple times throughout the interview, (Butler) indicated he did what he thought he had to,” the affidavit said.

The City of Fairbanks said in a statement that Butler had also contacted his supervisor at the Fairbanks Police Department “immediately” after the altercation, and that he has cooperated with an administrative investigation conducted by the department.