Michael L. “ML” Funk, one of four people suing the city of Neenah,Wiscnsin; the Neenah Police Department; Neenah Police Chief Kevin E. Wilkinson and a local judge named Scott C. Woldt was shot and killed by Neenah police Saturday morning.
The shooting occurred during a Swat standoff at a motorcycle shop named Eagle Nation Cycles in Neenah. Neenah is a city of about 25,000 people on Lake Winnebago about 40 miles south of Green Bay. The shop is owned by Steven V. Erato who is also a party to the same federal civil rights lawsuit.
Funk (photo above) was in the shop and Erato was in the building’s basement when Brian T. Flatoff entered the shop armed with a MAC-10 semiautomatic pistol. Flatoff demanded the release of a motorcycle that had been left at the shop for service. Cole White, who represented both Funk and Erato in the federal lawsuit, told Green Bay television station WFRV that Flatoff had “sold a motorcycle to raise money for legal fees for a pending case…. After he got his money he demanded his bike back.” Flatoff was charged with felony drunk driving last August and has been free on $3,000 bond.
Funk told Erato to lock himself in and call police. When Flatoff allegedly fired a shot into the ceiling, Erato told police he had heard shots and the Neenah Swat Team was dispatched to the scene. According to police, someone in the shop fired at Swat and struck a Swat officer’s helmet.
When Funk ran from the shop, police shot him. Erato later told the Appleton Post Crescent, “He was a hostage coming out. They shot him in the alley. They shot the wrong guy.”
A police statement said Funk was shot because he was carrying a pistol and that he, “did not comply with officers’ instructions to drop the firearm and was subsequently shot at by one or more officers on scene,”
In an article published in June 2014, the New York Times singled out Neenah as an example of the militarization of America’s police. Chief Wilkinson told the Times “We’re not going to go out there as Officer Friendly with no body armor and just a handgun and say ‘Good enough.’ ”
The lawsuit was born of a September 2012 Swat raid on Eagle Nation Cycles. According to the suit, “The hyper-militarized force parked an armored tank-like vehicle outside of Eagle Nation, stormed the building, bombarding the occupants with assault weapons drawn, screaming profanities and abuse, all while wearing plain clothes (un-uniformed) and facemasks. None of the initial officers that entered the building were wearing marked police uniforms.”
The search warrant approved by Judge Woldt that authorized the raid was later ruled invalid. There had been a grudge between Erato and the judge since 2005 and the raid appears to have been deliberately punitive. According to the lawsuit the 2012 raid left Funk with “debilitating paranoia and fear of persecution.”