He had a uniform approach
State Correctional Police Officer Vincent Butler served with a relentless dedication to order
On his day off, State Correctional Police Officer Vincent Butler would spend hours getting his uniform ready for the coming week’s tour. Every crease had to be ironed impeccably. His belt and shoes needed to be clean of scuff marks and shined to a mirror finish. He ran inspections of his wardrobe that his wife Teresa reported would last for up to an hour.
Butler loved order. Every report he wrote had to be mistake-free and organized a certain way. He let inmates at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton where he worked know that as long as they toed the line, he would treat them like men.
Things will seem out of line at South Woods after losing Vincent Butler to COVID-19 on Dec. 29. It was the second time in 25 days that COVID took an officer from South Woods, where State Corrections Local 105 members are still grieving Brother Erick Whitaker who was lost on Dec. 4.
“He was the kind of guy who came to work every day. He did exactly what he was asked to do. You could rely on him,” praised Mike Gallagher, a Local 105 vice president who is assigned to South Woods.
On Jan. 3, Butler and Gallagher would have reached their 23rd year together on the job having come out of the same academy class. Gallagher noted how Butler grew to become a general assignment specialist at South Woods, a guy they would send in to respond to a code situation like an officer in need of assistance.
“He was a guy who didn’t have time for the nonsense of workplace drama,” Gallagher added. “He was all about business. He was there to do a job, and he did it.”
Butler would go to great lengths to maintain order. Teresa recalled an incident when Vincent was 10 years into the job. A riot broke out at South Woods. Butler kept inmates from going over the wall, even climbing the wall to drag one down.
He broke his ankle in the process and needed a couple of surgeries to get back on the job. He was out just four months recovering.
That was the only time Butler missed the job. Teresa said he never even had a minor cold. He figured when he came down with COVID that he would recover quickly and almost did. The virus took him pretty quickly.
“He loved the idea of being a good citizen,” Teresa shared. “This is a man who never smoked a cigarette, never drank anything in his life.”
Vincent and Teresa met working security in the casinos. During their 27 years together, they raised four children. One daughter is reportedly preparing to take the Bar exam.
One of the first things Vincent told Tereasa is that he wanted to be a law enforcement officer. And he wanted to be the best one.
He would have graduated the academy first in the class academically, but just before the last exam, Teresa went into labor two months premature. He, of course, left to tend to his family and a low score on that exam left him three points behind the officer at the top of the class.
“My husband was a person who loved order and abiding by the rules,” Teresa confirmed. “He liked the idea of helping people when they had times of crisis.”
Vincent would come home many nights and tell his family stories about work. From those tales, Teresa was able to get a great sense of how he went about his job.
“He always talked about he tried to lead the way and to do his job with dignity and honor,” she detailed. “Although these individuals made incorrect choices, he felt they are still individuals that should be treated with humanity. He always thought that was important as a member of law enforcement.”
The NJ State PBA has now lost 18 members to COVID-19. The pandemic has hit South Woods extremely hard. Officer Chris Stanek was hit with the virus in May and finally returned to his family after more than 100 days. He was at Cooper University Hospital in Camden for months, where he was intubated and placed on a ventilator twice and put on continuous dialysis at one point.
Butler and Whitaker both worked Facility 3 at South Woods, where Gallagher said officers have to interact with inmates who try to distance but are not on lockdown. He warns that despite getting tested every week, officers must be increasingly aware of what can happen with being exposed to COVID.
“We’re a type, a personality and most of us think we can handle anything,” commented Gallagher who endured his own battle with the virus. “So, basically, you’re going to have COVID symptoms. But when you have complications, that’s the time to seek medical assistance.”
Butler was always a rock at South Woods, and Gallagher described him as a “buoy who can’t be replaced.” Teresa said that her husband would have a simple request for officers to remain rock solid.
“He would want them to carry themselves with character and high honor,” she declared. “And although you are maintaining order and alignment to the regulations and rules within the prison, always remember that the individuals you are overseeing should still be treated with humanity.”