Police in Neenah, Wisconsin are still sitting on video of Swat officers shooting a man named Michael L. Funk outside a bike shop called Eagle Nation Cycles last December 5.
Funk and Eagle Nation owner Steven V. Erato were in the shop basement when a disgruntled customer named Brian T. Flatoff entered the shop armed with a MAC-10 semiautomatic pistol. Flatoff had sold his motorcycle to pay his lawyer in a drunk driving case. Then he wanted his motorcycle back.
Funk went upstairs to deal with Flatoff and told Erato to lock himself in and call police. Neenah sent a Swat team.
Funk was eventually able to escape, and as he ran from the shop police shot and killed him. 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,”
Although video of the event has not been released to the general public, a lawyer for the dead man’s widow, Theresa Mason-Funk, did see the video in March. The lawyer’s name is Howard Schoenfeld and after he saw what happened he filed a $3.5 million wrongful death claim against the city of Neenah and three Neenah cops named Craig Hoffer, Jonathan Kuffel and Robert Ross.
The claim alleges “No warning was given to Michael that he was at risk for being shot by the police” and that the three, Neenah police riflemen “collectively fired at least twelve shots” at Funk. “Michael was hit at least five times,” the claim states. “One of the shots went through Michael’s forehead.”
On April Fools Day the Neenah police issued a written statement that said some statements in the claim were “unambiguously false” and that Funk had not been shot in the head.
Because there has been an epidemic of fatal police shootings in America and because it has been almost five months since Funk was killed, USA Today filed a public-records request for the video with the Neenah Police Department. So far Neenah has kept the video out of the public’s eye.
Winnebago County Deputy District Attorney Scott Ceman told the newspaper he wasn’t going to release the video because he doesn’t “want to create any sensationalism or undue pretrial publicity that would impinge on Mr. Flatoff’s rights to get a fair trial here.” It is a distressingly familiar excuse for maintaining official secrecy after fatal police shootings.
Flatoff faces a total of 16 felony charges, including murder and attempted murder. He is being held on $500,000 bail and could be sentenced to 300 years in prison. There is a preliminary hearing in the case today.