South Bend settles excessive force lawsuit for $15K

The city of South Bend agreed to pay a man $15,000 to end a federal lawsuit alleging that a police officer used excessive force while arresting him during a 2014 traffic stop.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Thomas Stevens alleges he became concerned about South Bend Police Officer Aaron Knepper’s aggression after he drove a block to his house instead of immediately pulling over when signaled. It said Stevens tried to “seek safety inside his home” when the officer used a stun gun and repeatedly struck him.

“It is undisputed that Officer Knepper’s initial action against Thomas was not in response to any violent or physical aggression on Thomas’s part,” U.S. District Judge James Moody said. “The Seventh Circuit has held that failing to follow commands is not ‘active resistance’ and does not constitute the type of struggle that warrants significant use of force.”

The suit also alleges the officer knocked Stevens’ mother to the ground when she grabbed the officer’s arm during the arrest, the South Bend Tribune reported .

“I am accepting this settlement because given the context of the case for which I have made the claim, I do not believe I have a case going forward,” Stevens said in the agreement.

Following the incident, Stevens was arrested and sentenced to two years of home detention in 2015. Knepper returned to patrol duty soon after the encounter. He has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office.