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Laguna Officer's Use of Kicking During Arrest Is Defended

May 17, 1991|TOM McQUEENEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — The attorney for a police officer who kicked a homeless man last summer said Thursday that Chief Neil J. Purcell's decision to fire the officer is groundless and that the kicking--captured on a citizen's videotape--was justified.

"There isn't a piece of evidence in the world to support his firing." said Gregory G. Petersen, the lawyer for Officer Keith Knotek. "Kicking is an approved, taught use of force in this world. It may not be pretty. . . . Cops die in this business and that's because this world is made up of 'nice' people who want to fight policemen."

Petersen cited a package of information given to Knotek on Thursday from the Police Department that apparently conflicts with Purcell's conclusions. He said it includes reports from two police training experts who thought Knotek was justified in kicking Kevin A. Dunbar because Dunbar was resisting arrest outside a wild party on June 17 in South Laguna.

He also stressed that the Orange County district attorney's office and the Orange County Grand Jury concluded this week that there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges against his client.

On Wednesday, Purcell said he intended to fire Knotek because Dunbar did not present a life-or-death situation to the officers arresting him. Police were trying to handcuff Dunbar when Knotek kicked him twice, according to an internal investigation.

Details of the evidence supporting the decision to fire Knotek will be kept confidential because the process to fire the officer is under way, Purcell said. Knotek has 10 days to request a hearing to protest his termination.

Purcell also announced Thursday that he has reprimanded another officer who was on the scene during Dunbar's arrest for failing to file a complete arrest report.

Officer Michael Donahue, one of six officers involved, did not mention in his report that Dunbar had received visible head injuries and was treated at an area hospital, Purcell said. The reprimand will become a part of Donahue's personnel file.

Donahue could not be reached for comment Thursday.

A third officer also faces discipline for the incident, but he is out of town and has not been notified.

Knotek, Donahue and two other officers are named in a federal civil rights lawsuit Dunbar filed against them and the city of Laguna Beach in February. Dunbar, who was unemployed and living at Laguna's Main Beach last summer, is seeking unspecified damages.

Donahue and another officer have countersued Dunbar, alleging that Dunbar assaulted them when he resisted arrest. U.S. District Court Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler has ordered a settlement conference for June 24.

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