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Group calls for action against SB officer involved in arrest

By Kelli Stopczynski
Published On: Mar 31 2014 09:57:23 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 31 2014 05:37:33 PM CDT

A local watchdog group is calling for South Bend police officer Aaron Knepper to be fired. Officer Aaron Knepper is at the center of a Metro Homicide investigation after a man was hospitalized when Knepper arrested him last week. WSBT's Kelli Stopczynski reports. 

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -

A group of pastors and activists want South Bend Police officer Aaron Knepper off the force. They also want to form a group to investigate charges of police wrongdoing.

People United for Better Government says there is a ‘culture of corruption’ in the city administration and South Bend's police department. But some people in that group have their own history with the same officers handling the investigation into Knepper.

Knepper arrested Tom Stevens last week after he drove half a block to his own house and, according to police, didn't stop for a routine traffic stop. Stevens was hurt and hospitalized, but police have not released details of the arrest.

A source tells WSBT an officer first spotted Stevens slowly cruising a South Bend neighborhood with his headlights off.

PUBG member Mario Sims called the current situation ‘outrageous.’

He and others are frustrated that they can’t get information about Stevens’ arrest.

“We’ve been told to wait for the outcome of the investigation from people we don't think have credibility,” Sims said at a news conference Monday. “We don’t trust this administration. We don’t trust this police chief.”

One reason he doesn’t trust some of the investigators stems from his own felony conviction for rape, burglary and criminal deviate conduct in the 1990s, Sims said. He believes he was set up back then by some of the same investigators handling Knepper’s case.

But Knepper has a troubled past too. A lawsuit accuses him of excessive force in July 2012. Knepper and other officers allegedly barged into a home on Johnson Street between 2 and 3 a.m. and tazed the wrong suspect – a 17-year-old.

About 6 months later, Knepper served a 2 day suspension after he and other officers convinced a gas station employee to eat a spoonful of cinnamon – knowing it would make that worker very ill.

“This community will no longer tolerate or accept this type of conduct from anyone in law enforcement,” Sims added.

He and other activists are now calling on South Bend Police Chief Ron Teachman to fire Knepper, who is still patrolling city streets.

“This is our community,” said activist David Frank. “Teachman’s an employee. He’s here for a job. We live here, we finance the police department and we deserve more input as to the kind of role they're going to play into our lives.”

 PUBG said it wants that input to come through a Citizen’s Review Board. The board would investigate any allegations of officer wrong-doing then report its findings to the public.

But police say the city already has that in the Board of Public Safety – made up of former police officers and others who understand how law enforcement works. The board meets once a month.

South Bend Police Capt. Phil Trent had strong words for PUBG Monday afternoon saying, “I think it is incredibly dangerous and presumptuous of any individuals or group to pass public judgment on this officer. With that being said, we would caution everyone to exercise forbearance and not formulate an opinion until the full accounts and details of what occurred are released.”

Meanwhile, Tom Stevens is out of the public eye and saying with ‘a friend of a friend,’ his mother, Suzanne told WSBT.

Tom and Suzanne were both arrested for resisting arrest and battery to a police officer during Tuesday’s incident but neither have been formally charged. Jail records show Tom Stevens has been booked into the St. Joseph County jail 11 times in the last 10 years. In 2011 he was booked for cocaine and resisting arrest. He’s also been in trouble for driving with a suspended license.

Suzanne says her son remembers being walked to a squad car last Tuesday night after the arrest but doesn’t remember anything until he woke up in the hospital. She said her son apparently had a seizure in the back of the squad car.

Doctors put a tube down his throat at the hospital, she added, and put Tom in a medically induced coma for at least a day. He was discharged Saturday.