Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who was elected to be the state’s top cop by running as “Law Enforcement’s Choice,” cleared the two Neenah police “operators” who murdered 60-year-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.
Schimel (center of photo above) decreed the two cops, Craig Hoffer and Robert Ross, were innocent because he believed their excuse for murdering a man in cold blood.
Funk, a co-owner of the bike shop was taken hostage by an armed, deranged, disgruntled customer named Brian T. Flatoff. Police responded after 45 minutes by trying to storm the store. They botched that. When the five militarized cops escaped they left the back door open. When Flatoff told Funk to close the door he escaped. Flatoff fired multiple rounds at him. Funk took cover behind a pickup truck and drew a legally carried pistol. When Flatoff failed to pursue Funk, Funk tried to run for safety with the gun in his hand. Hoffer and Ross shot him five times. He was shot twice while he lay on the ground. Police fired 12 shots at Funk in all.
The Neenah police in general and Hoffer in particular had grudges against both Eagle Cycles and Funk.
Neenah cop commandos, including Hoffer, raided Eagle Nation Cycles in 2012 in an attempt, shop owner Steven V. Erato has alleged, to put the shop out of business, seize the building and profit from its resale to a developer. Hoffer, a former undercover drug cop, participated in that raid. Significant evidence exists that while in the shop Hoffer planted drugs in the shop office then erased about 30 seconds from the security video that showed him doing it. Police seemed to consider the bike shop a public nuisance as well as a policing for profit opportunity. Hoffer had had previous interactions with Funk and knew what he looked like. The police had been told that the hostages, who were all shop employees, were wearing all black and that Flatoff was wearing blue jeans.
Schimel ruled that Hoffer and Ross were innocent because of what they imagined. The men imagined that there were no hostages and that the call to police was part of a conspiracy to lure them into a trap.
“They were wrong, but the evidence demonstrates that their beliefs were genuine and, ultimately, they were objectively reasonable,” Schimel said Friday.
In lawyer’s Latin, the formal point of law that Schimel applied to this murder is actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which translates as, “an act does not make a person guilty unless his mind is also guilty.” Schimel thinks Hoffer and Ross acted innocently, without malice in their minds. He did not explain how he arrived at his conclusion. True to his campaign slogan, Schimel seems to have simply given the cops the benefit of the doubt.
Hoffer was struck in his helmet during the botched entry into the store. He ran to a nearby ambulance and returned to kill Funk.
In the video below, another officer named Suart Zuehls tells Hoffer he shouldn’t be there. Zuehls starts to say, “My point is, you end up shooting somebody….”
“I did,” Hoffer interrupts excitedly. :I already did!”
“You shot someone?”
“Yeah, I fucking killed the dude.” Then Hoffer laughs.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has unlisted the videos on YouTube in under to prevent their viewing by the general public. You can find working links to the videos here.
In an angry editorial published last night, the Appleton Post-Crescent declared it had “no confidence the leadership of the Neenah Police Department can run a force that protects its citizens.”
The paper found the videos of the incident “appalling” and was “outraged about the fact that a police officer gunned down a man and laughed about it.”
“Something is broken in the Neenah Police Department,” the paper complained. “The department is dysfunctional. The leadership is absent. If the department’s leadership team says its officers followed the department’s policy – which was backed up by the Wisconsin Department of Justice and a consultant’s report – then why is an innocent man dead? And why are police laughing about it?”
You can read the complete Post-Crescent editorial here.