LUMBERTON — In his nearly three years with the Lumberton Police Department, Officer Joe Butler IV has responded to 27 calls involving a death.
Call No. 27 came across his radio at about 2:40 p.m. on Sunday — shots fired on Chambers Street. He and Officer Anthony Maynor, a police academy classmate, were about a half-mile away on Freedom Drive. They arrived about a minute later to find a man, later identified as 30-year-old Julius Smith, laying in the road, his shirt covered in blood.
Butler began administering chest compressions to Smith, talking to him to try to keep him conscious and comforted.
That’s when Lumberton resident Michael Robinson, who heard about the shooting on a police scanner, arrived.
“When he got up, I felt the emotion,” Robinson said, who was moved by what he saw Sunday to send Butler a letter commending him for his efforts to save Smith. “Tears were rolling down his face. He tried to the best of his ability.”
Butler and Maynor spent about 10 to 15 minutes alternating doing chest compressions on Smith until Emergency Medical Services arrived, pumping his chest about 300 times in the 90-degree heat to try to get his blood circulating. Officer Layton Bartley and Lt. Pete Monteiro secured the scene and kept members of the nearby St. Mary Holiness Church inside. They also tried utilizing a defibrillator on Smith to no avail.
“I was just trying to comfort him, tell him to keep his eyes open,” said Maynor, who administered chest compressions on call for the first time Sunday.
“We want to save everybody and it’s difficult when you can’t,” Butler said. “I know me and Maynor did everything in our power to save him.”
Butler said every death he witnesses on call is emotional, but this call was different.
“He’s still breathing. You think you have a chance,” Butler said.
“I’ve never witnessed anything like it,” Maynor said. “That was probably one of the saddest things I’ve seen, to see him take his last breaths.”
The shooting also came just hours after three police officers were killed by a lone gunman in Baton Rouge. On July 9, five officers were killed in Dallas while working at a protest prompted by recent shootings of black men by police.
Amid tension between black communities and police, Robinson said Butler, who is white, saw beyond Smith’s race.
“He didn’t see him as a black man,” said Robinson, who is black. “He just saw him as a person and wanted to save his life.”
So Robinson delivered a letter to the Police Department, which Butler received Wednesday.
“You are a good officer,” Robinson wrote. “You keep doing what God wants you to do.”
Butler returned the thanks, saying Robinson helped officers to identify Smith after they could not locate his ID and to comfort his family. Robinson knows Smith’s girlfriend, who was on the scene, and accompanied her and Smith’s mother to the hospital.
“We don’t see individual letters that often,” Butler said. “It was very heartfelt.”
Since Sunday, Lumberton police issued warrants for Brandon Devon McMillan in connection with Smith’s death. McMillan turned himself in Tuesday and was charged with first-degree murder.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.