Video obtained by the USA Today Network shows that trigger happy, militarized police in Neenah, Wisconsin executed 60-tear-old Michael L. Funk as he tried to flee to safety during a standoff last December 5 at a bike shop named Eagle Nation Cycles. The video was recorded by the dash camera of a Neenah police car.
Funk was an employee at Eagle Nation. He and shop owner Steven V. Erato were in a 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 the shop and wanted it back. Funk went to talk to Flatoff while Erato locked himself in the basement and called police. Neenah sent a Swat team.
When Funk tried to escape the shop to safety police fired multiple shots at him from multiple rifles.
A Neenah Police Department press release issued later that day stated:
“At about 9:22 a.m. Neenah police received specific information that hostages were in immediate danger of being killed. Officers attempted entry into the building to rescue the hostages and were met with gunfire. One male Neenah officer was shot by someone inside the business. The officer was struck in his ballistic helmet which prevented the shot from being potentially fatal. The officers were able to exit the building and the wounded officer received medical attention. He was eventually transported to Theda Clark Hospital where he was treated and released.
“A short time later a male subject exited the business with a firearm. This subject did not comply with officers’ instructions to drop the firearm and was subsequently shot at by one or more officers on scene. We do not know if he was also shot at by the subject inside the business. Gold Cross Ambulance was able to provide medical care and transport him to Theda Clark Hospital. That subject later died as a result of his injures.”
Spinning The Video
The video indicates that police did not warn Funk before they lit him up. The video also shows that police left Funk lying in an alley without medical aid while he died.
In March Funk’s widow, Theresa Mason-Funk, filed a $3.5 million wrongful death claim against the city of Neenah and three Neenah police officers named Craig Hoffer, Jonathan Kuffel and Robert Ross after her lawyer, Howard Schoenfeld, saw the video released today.
Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson immediately began to diminish the video with rhetoric. He told The Associated Press, “It certainly appears from the video that there was no warning given…There is no requirement that a warning be given, either by law or policy.”
Chief Wilkinson explained away his lies to Appleton radio station WHBY. “I said that he had not followed orders, and that was based on the witness statements because obviously I wasn’t there to see what happened and we weren’t at that point allowed to interview our own officers because they were under investigation by the department of criminal investigation, so we had to rely on what witnesses said. And it’s clear that I was also wrong about the medical treatment of Mr. Funk.”
The Back Story
When police killed him, Funk was a party to a lawsuit against Neenah and its police department. According to that suit, a Swat team executed a search warrant on Eagle Nation on September 21, 2012 in hopes of finding “a complex drug manufacturing and distribution operation in conjunction with the Hells Lovers motorcycle gang and suggested activities and persons in the facility as if it were an episode of the television series, Sons of Anarchy.”
The suit alleged the city was trying to “force Eagle Nation Cycles out of business. Eagle Nation Cycles is located on a prime piece of property located in a developmental district of downtown. Finding a large cache of drugs would have resulted in an easy acquisition of property for the city.”
Federal District Judge William C. Griesbach dismissed the suit with prejudice in January after the complainants missed multiple depositions.
In June 2014, Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times used Neenah, which has a population of 25,000, to exemplify the increasing militarization of small town police departments.
“When the military’s mine-resistant trucks began arriving in large numbers last year, Neenah and places like it were plunged into the middle of a debate over whether the post-9/11 era had obscured the lines between soldier and police officer,” Apuzzo wrote.
Chief Wilkinson defended the militarization of his department. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I wish it were the way it was when I was a kid (but) we’re not going to go out there as Officer Friendly with no body armor and just a handgun and say ‘Good enough.’”
It seems unlikely at this point that anybody would ever mistake Neenah’s cop commandos for “Officer Friendly.”