Man who wanted 'suicide by cop' settles excessive force suit

A man who said he wanted to die during a 2009 shootout alleges that the amount of force used by the defendants was objectively unreasonable

By Kevin Barlow
The Pantagraph

LINCOLN, Ill.  A man who said he wanted to die during a 2009 shootout with police has reached a settlement with two Lincoln police officers who shot him during his arrest and with the city.

Terms of the settlement, which is pending in federal court, were not available Monday.

In October 2010, Michael Knuth, known as "Tattoo" for the ink images that cover his face, was sentenced to 45 years for the attempted murder of Stuart Erlenbush, who was police chief at the time of the incident. He subsequently sued, alleging police used excessive force and shot him after he was incapacitated in an armed robbery incident on July 20, 2009.

Court documents indicate a the event began woman said Knuth demanded money from her and then fired a gun in her home.

That led police to search for Knuth, who was reported to be in possession of a stolen gun and considered to be armed and dangerous.

Knuth fled the woman's home but entered a Lincoln residence and convinced a man at the house to give him a ride in the man's truck. Moments later, the man was able to escape after officers stopped the truck near Scully Park.

Erlenbush testified that during that stop, Knuth pointed a gun at him before Erlenbush and a second officer, Michael Fruge, fired nine shots that hit Knuth. Knuth was taken to a hospital and survived the injuries.

He later told officials he was on alcohol and drugs at the time and wanted to die in the incident.

Knuth now alleges in his lawsuit that the amount of force used by the defendants was objectively unreasonable and used sadistically and maliciously.

In court documents, Knuth stated he was shot seven times by Fruge and was incapacitated and no longer presenting a threat to danger.

"That's when Chief Erlenbush walked up to the driver's side door of the truck and violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights under the 14th and Eighth Amendments by maliciously and sadistically firing two more shots into the body of this now unarmed and incapacitated plaintiff," the lawsuit reads.

In his statement, Knuth said he was laid out on the floor of the truck and his weapon was behind him on the seat of the passenger's side of the truck, completely out of his possession.

Illinois State Police trooper Paul Hennessy was assisting with the search for Knuth and arrived at the scene. In his report, he noted that paramedics recovered a fully loaded 9 mm handgun and magazine from the truck.

The case was set for trial last week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Schanzle-Haskins, but lawyers informed him a settlement had been reached. The judge ordered the agreement be submitted to U.S. District Court by May 1.

The city of Lincoln and the Lincoln Police Department, which also were named in the suit, also are part of the settlement.

Knuth filed the case in June 2011 and is requesting compensation and punitive awards that the jury would deem fair and equitable.
Officials with the city of Lincoln declined comment on the litigation.

Copyright 2014 The Pantagraph

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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