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LAGUNA BEACH : Ex-Officer May Sue for Reinstatement

A former Laguna Beach police officer, fired in May for allegedly using excessive force in arresting a homeless man, will meet with attorneys this week to decide whether to file a lawsuit demanding his job back, one of his lawyers said Monday.

On Friday, former Officer Keith R. Knotek exhausted the city’s appeal process when the Personnel Board issued a unanimous recommendation to uphold Police Chief Neil J. Purcell’s decision to fire him.

Purcell fired Knotek, 26, after an internal investigation concluded that he unnecessarily kicked Kevin A. Dunbar, who was struggling with two other officers last summer outside a wild party in South Laguna. The arrest was captured on videotape by a nearby resident.

Attorneys are planning to meet with Knotek this week to decide whether to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against Laguna Beach, said Tom Perez, one of Knotek’s attorneys.

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“We’ll formulate our strategy from there,” Perez said.

The Personnel Board’s recommendation has been forwarded to City Manager Kenneth C. Frank, who will decide whether Knotek should be rehired. Frank said Monday that he will write a letter to Knotek in the next day or two with his decision.

Frank said that until Knotek receives the letter he will not comment on his decision.

During an appeal last month before the three-member Personnel Board, Knotek and Orange County police training experts testified that kicks are proper when subduing a fighting suspect. Knotek and other Laguna officers at the scene testified that Dunbar, 25, was on the ground, squirming, kicking and elbowing the officers. Knotek’s kicks to the man’s upper right arm stunned him long enough for officers to place him in handcuffs, the officers testified.

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The Personnel Board agreed that kicks can be a proper method of controlling a subject. But the board ruled that Knotek’s kicks were “an unwarranted escalation of that situation and an exercise in poor judgment.”

According to the board’s decision, Knotek appeared to suffer a “momentary loss of self-control” when he kicked Dunbar, and seemed to be the only visibly agitated officer on the scene.

A second officer fired over the incident, Daniel Lowrey, also has appealed to the board. Purcell said he fired Lowrey for lying during the investigation of the kicking incident. His appeal hearing could begin later this week, personnel officer Philip Hofmann said Monday.


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