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Cops talk about South Bend traffic stop arrest controversy

By Kelli Stopczynski
Published On: Mar 28 2014 04:44:33 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 28 2014 06:07:03 PM CDT

WSBT's Kelli Stopczynski has new information on the man investigators say got hurt when a South Bend police officer tried to arrest him this week.

SOUTH BEND -

Investigators are finally talking about a traffic stop that landed a suspect in the hospital after a scuffle with police. Even though St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Commander Tim Corbett won’t go into details about their investigation into what happened in the 1500 blk of Sunnymede Tuesday night, he said he thinks the officer at the center of the investigation is being convicted in the public eye.

“There’s been a lot of opinions out there and a lot of, perhaps, misinformation,” Corbett said.

A source told WSBT a police officer spotted Stevens’ pick up driving slowly through a neighborhood with his headlights off around 10:30 Tuesday. That officer tried to pull him over at Sunnymede and Twyckenham and instead of stopping, Stevens drove half a block to his house.

When officer Aaron Knepper arrested him, Stevens was seriously injured and had to be hospitalized.

“[That officer] knocked my son down and he kept beating him and beating him,” Suzanne Stevens said, recalling the event to WSBT on Thursday.

She was also booked into the jail for battering an officer and resisting arrest.

“I tried to get that policeman to stop beating my son,” she said.

“I have to be quite honest about it,” Corbett said. “It sounds to me like this officer’s already been convicted, vilified, everything.”

Police are taking heat for their silence in the investigation. An editorial in Friday’s South Bend Tribune urged investigators to release information about the arrest and Knepper – whose been in trouble before – punished for using excessive force.

The paper said, ‘The public deserves answers… sooner rather than later.’

“I’m unmoved by it insofar as we’re not going to accelerate or compromise an investigation,” South Bend Police Chief Ron Teachman said in response to the editorial. “This isn't the tail wagging the dog.”

“Let’s wait until it’s played out,” Corbett added. “Find out the facts, find out the truth. Let us do our thing.”

Metro Homicide is investigating because Stevens was hurt during an arrest. That’s protocol for several police departments in St. Joseph County.

The Tribune also demanded answers about why Knepper is still patrolling the streets when he’s been accused of excessive force before and is currently involved in at least one lawsuit for his behavior while on duty.

It’s a case-by-case decision, Teachman said, explaining if the department took an officer off the street every time someone filed suit against them it would cripple the police department and there would be no one to patrol the streets.

A Memorial Hospital spokeswoman confirmed Stevens was listed in good condition Friday evening.

WSBT also learned Friday this is not the first time he’s been in trouble with the police. Officers booked him into the St. Joseph County jail 11 times in the last 10 years. According to jail records, a 2011 arrest was for cocaine possession and resisting arrest.

He's also been arrested for driving with a suspended license and convicted for using hardcore drugs.