A Cover-Up Worse Than ‘Making a Murderer’?
On the morning of Dec. 5, a longhaired felon on a bender woke at a friend’s home in Neenah, Wisconsin, and blasted a gunshot into the wall.
It was around 7 a.m. that Saturday, and Brian Flatoff had allegedly been up all night, swilling vodka or rum, and was still intoxicated. He was so drunk in the wee hours, his female friend said, that when he stood, he fell and knocked his head. His friend feared he had a concussion and considered dialing 911.
Flatoff darted into his pal’s bedroom, waving a .45 caliber pistol seared with the image of a skull on its grip, before grabbing a pillow and pretending to smother her face. “Really, Brian,” she blurted out.
“You know I can’t handle going back there, to prison,” Flatoff replied.
Flatoff allegedly straddled the woman and started yelling at her. Then he blasted a hole into the wall above her head. She later told cops she “probably had gunpowder from the shot on her face.”
A onetime owner of a local tattoo parlor, the 46-year-old Flatoff was out on bail for his sixth charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated—a felony for which he’s facing trial in March, court records show.
Flatoff announced he was heading to Eagle Nation Cycles, a Neenah motorcycle shop whose employees, he believed, had helped steal his bike. (Flatoff sold his motorcycle and wanted to buy it back. The new owner refused and took the chopper to Eagle Nation for repairs, court papers allege.)
The friend feared Flatoff was going to pummel someone to retrieve his beloved two-wheeler, she later told police.
Still, the biker packed his gun away and assured her “he was going to be good.” The pal told cops that Flatoff “was being reasonable and was going to Eagle Nation to speak like an adult” about the motorcycle.
Flatoff took off, borrowing her truck, and she fell asleep. But when she woke, her fully loaded MAC-10 machine pistol was gone.
These allegations—detailed in a criminal complaint filed in Winnebago County and reviewed by The Daily Beast—are only the beginning of a case that’s under national scrutiny.
Flatoff would soon storm the bike shop, take hostages and spark a harrowing standoff with cops—one that led to the death of Michael “ML” Funk, a 60-year-old grandfather and co-owner of the shop, who was shot by SWAT team officers as he tried to escape from Flatoff’s siege.
While the Eagle Nation biker club shuns comparisons to Sons of Anarchy, their saga with police contains enough twists and turns for a television script. And the case is far from closed.
Some, including Eagle Nation’s attorney, Cole White, say officers should have recognized the senior biker when they fired on him.
After all, Funk had a $50 million lawsuit pending against the police department over a “hyper-militarized” raid on his business in 2012. (In a scathing decision, a federal judge dismissed the case last week, saying White had failed to schedule or appear for depositions before deadline. The judge said White had four federal cases in the district that all “involve failure to follow rules.”)
The bikers also have security footage of the 2012 raid—which they say was confiscated by police and returned with 20 seconds “suspiciously” missing. The Daily Beast reviewed a video that shows a cop allegedly finding something—later reported to be marijuana—after the skip.
Supporters are even drawing parallels with the Steven Avery case, which gained international fame with the documentary series Making a Murderer. They claim the justice system in Neenah needs to be examined as much as that in Avery’s home of Manitowoc, Wisconsin—about 46 miles away.
“It goes, to speak frankly, to the nature of a lot of law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin, which are under the national spotlight as it is,” White told The Daily Beast in an interview this month.
Now, Funk’s family, along with his fellow shopkeeper Steve “Mad” Erato, are demanding cops release body camera and security footage of the 2015 hostage standoff, where dozens of officers from other departments flocked to respond to the shop’s call for help. They say video of the harrowing episode will prove once and for all what happened to Michael Funk.
Cops say Funk fled the building and refused orders to drop his weapon, for which he had a concealed-carry permit. Erato questions whether responding officers knew who Funk was and if they could have purposefully fired on him, before leaving him bleeding on the sidewalk for at least an hour until he died.
“Who do you call when the cops are the ones that are doing everything? Who do you report it to?” Erato, 64, said to The Daily Beast.
The city of Neenah’s attorney, Jim Godlewski, said Erato’s accusations “make no logical sense.”
“He’s making some pretty wild allegations… it seems to me he should have some facts to back it up,” Godlewski told The Daily Beast.
“The alleged shooter has absolutely no connection to the city of Neenah,” Godlewski said, adding that Funk’s death “occurred as a direct result of [Flatoff’s] actions. None of this would have occurred had he not did what he’s alleged to have done.”
Godlewski, along with Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson, declined to comment in detail to The Daily Beast about the Dec. 5 standoff.
Godlewski said the state’s Department of Justice, which is investigating Funk’s death, requested they not comment on the hostage standoff pending its report. (Per state law, an independent agency such as the state DOJ is required to probe police-involved deaths.)
But for Erato and a growing number of people in Neenah, they say they no longer know if they can trust the local police. “People think this don’t happen in small towns,” Erato added, “and they’re in for a big surprise.”
Neenah police got the call just before 9 a.m. A hostage situation was unfolding at Eagle Nation, which was operated by Erato and Funk, two Vietnam-era vets who, according to Erato, for years helped defuse tensions between biker clubs and law enforcement.
Flatoff took three captives—along with Erato, who was hiding downstairs—and demanded they reassemble his motorcycle, which was at the shop for repairs, prosecutors say.
Months before, Flatoff hawked his bike to Vance Dalton, an acquaintance, so he could post $3,000 bail in his pending OWI case. Dalton told a reporter he took the motorcycle to Eagle Nation because “it was trashed.”
But Flatoff wanted the bike back, and demanded that Eagle Nation mechanic Ryan Moderson call up Dalton and get him to the shop. According to the criminal complaint, Moderson quietly told Dalton to call police.
Erato was a floor below as the scene escalated. When he entered the area, Funk waved him back downstairs without Flatoff noticing.
Moderson told the Appleton Post-Crescent that Flatoff, who was a stranger to everyone at the shop, “was talking here and there” and “seemed pretty calm.”
“He kept saying, ‘If anybody calls the cops, I’m going to kill you all,’” Moderson said.
Then Flatoff allegedly fired a warning shot into the ceiling, prompting Erato to dial 911 and Funk to utter some of his last words: “We know you’re serious. We are scared to death.”
“You ought to be scared,” Flatoff allegedly replied, according to prosecutors.
Nearly 45 minutes into the hostage-taking, around 9:42 a.m., Neenah police came through the shop’s back door, with one cop repeating, “Police! Put the gun down!”
According to the criminal complaint, one Neenah lieutenant was advised by dispatch that Flatoff wanted five minutes to speak with someone, or he’d start shooting hostages.
The lieutenant decided to form a “hasty team” to enter the building. Upon entry, the cop, along with another lead officer, immediately fell down a stairwell, landing on the cement basement floor, court papers allege.
From the floor, the lieutenant saw vapor trails from bullets being fired at the entry team. Another cop returned fire while the two officers who fell were moved back outside, prosecutors say.
During an exchange of gunfire between Flatoff and the officers, a bullet struck a fire extinguisher and a burst of powdery smoke filled the air. A bullet struck the ballistic helmet of officer Craig Hoffer, and he yelled, “I’m hit!”
The officers retreated roughly one minute later, at 9:43 a.m., according to the criminal complaint, leaving behind only a Menasha police officer who monitored the back door of Eagle Nation. He saw Funk barrel past him in an apparent attempt to escape.
The Menasha cop claims Funk ran outside and that officers demanded, “Police! Show me your hands,” or “Police! Drop the gun,” according to the criminal complaint. Funk ran out the door at 9:46 a.m.
The officer said Funk was holding his silver handgun “in a manner that caused officers to fear for their safety” and they shot him down, court papers allege.
A Winnebago County sheriff’s deputy said he saw Funk on the ground in the alley behind the motorcycle shop. He claimed that he watched as deputies in a BearCat armored vehicle collected the biker’s body, and then left the scene.
According to police, deputies transported Funk to an ambulance, which took the grandfather to a medical center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The criminal complaint doesn’t list a timeframe of when Funk’s body was transported to the hospital. But the biker’s family and friends say the police are incorrect and that Funk was left dying on the sidewalk for more than an hour, until after Flatoff surrendered to police. Their claims mirror the coroner’s statement that Funk was transported via ambulance at 11 a.m.
Erato also alleges that he and other hostages were handcuffed and thrown into a squad car after Flatoff surrendered, the Post-Crescent reported.
“The most disgusting other than my partner getting killed… was the supposed rescue,” Erato told The Daily Beast. “[The police] bust in to save everybody, get shot at, then they turn around and run back out. I’m ex-military personnel; you don't turn around and abandon people. If they’d done their job, Michael wouldn’t have been killed.”
Funk’s daughter, Athea Callahan, rushed to the hospital around 11:50 a.m. A social worker there allegedly told her the active shooter was in the hospital, but they didn’t have a name. Her father, Michael Funk, wasn’t there, unless he was the shooter.
She initially felt some relief, believing that her dad couldn’t have been hurt. “It was an honest mistake,” Callahan told The Daily Beast.
This month, the Post-Crescent revealed that, contrary to police statements, Funk died at the scene and didn’t receive medical care from the ambulance company.
Spokespersons for the hospital and ambulance confirmed to The Daily Beast that Funk didn’t receive medical care and was never a patient. The ambulance firm, Gold Cross, said it only transported Funk to ThedaCare.
“Michael Funk was never a patient at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah, received no medical services and was not admitted into the hospital,” a hospital spokeswoman, Megan Mulholland, said in an email.
The Winnebago County coroner said the ambulance transported Funk to Theda Clark Medical Center at 11 a.m., and he was pronounced dead at 1:25 p.m. Funk’s death certificate is marked as pending.
It’s unclear why Neenah authorities’ statements contrast with those of the hospital.
“Authorities haven’t told us everything,” Callahan conceded. “The information I got, I got from the hospital. He was taken to the hospital… but they took him there for photographs and X-rays.”
When asked about X-rays and photos, Mulholland only responded, “He received no treatment from us.”
“It’s still confusing to me,” Callahan said. “Why [authorities] were so secretive and wouldn’t give us any information. It’s still frustrating we don’t have all the answers we’d like to have [but] something’s better than nothing.”
Callahan discovered on her own that the ambulance and hospital had no record of providing treatment to Funk, not through police—a tragic reality confirmed by local media.
When asked about the discrepancy, Police Chief Wilkinson told the Post-Crescent in a statement, “It was my understanding at the time of my statement that Gold Cross had provided care. If they did not, then that’s my error. Those early press release/briefings were based on limited information available at the time.”
Two weeks after the shooting, Callahan and supporters held a rally in front of the motorcycle shop to demand answers from police.
She showed a local reporter some of her questions, jotted down in a black notebook, that questioned, among other things, why police haven’t yet released the video of the shooting.
Not all supporters are even convinced Funk had a gun. Days after the shooting, one of the hostages told reporters, “I don’t know if he had one, but I did not see one. That shooting was, to me, instantly when he bolted over by that door.”
Callahan echoed this doubt, despite the Wisconsin DOJ claiming that Funk did have a gun on him. The state declined, however, to say what Funk was doing with the weapon as he fled, the Post-Crescent reported.
“They’re saying [Funk] had a gun and he didn’t follow directions,” Callahan told The Daily Beast. “If you just came out of a concrete building, where rounds of ammunition had just been fired, and a fire extinguisher exploded within feet of your head, how can you hear a verbal command?”
“The Department of Justice put out a statement in mid-December” stating Funk had a gun in his hand, Godlewski, the city’s attorney, said.
“The other thing to keep in mind about the incident that day… the chief has indicated when he made his press statement he was reliant on witness statements and we don’t know what the [DOJ] report is going to find out about those witness statements down the road."
Erato invited reporters to his shop days after Funk died to reveal the standoff damage: the business was riddled with bullet holes. Police had also punched a hole in the wall, turned over couch cushions and rifled through Erato’s office.
Eagle Nation will be closed for a while. Erato told The Daily Beast he’s spent thousands cleaning up the mess and presented the city a bill for $32,000 in damage—a request he says has gone unanswered. (Godlewski, the city attorney, confirmed a claim was filed and is under review.)
But the loss of a 30-year friendship is what really stings Erato and Funk’s heartbroken family.
“This was a great guy, a grandfather, he was a veteran, and now the police just to cover their butts are going to say he threatened them with a gun,” Erato told The Daily Beast. “We know you guys have body cameras. We know my security camera was seized. Release all the information. Just be transparent and see what really happened.”
Funk, an Air Force vet, was a doting granddad to two girls, ages 7 and 9. He may have had long hair, tattoos, and a bushy beard, but he wasn’t a scary biker. He planned to retire, had recently quit smoking and wanted to travel the country in an RV with his wife, Callahan said.
“To me, he never looked scary. I saw that soft smile and those eyes,” Callahan said. “If you ever saw him when the girls walk into the shop, he would tell customers, ‘Excuse me, I have something really important to do,’ and he’d turn around give them a big hug.”
Neither Funk nor Erato knew Flatoff personally or had even seen him before, according to family and friends.
Days after the shooting, police slapped Flatoff with 16 felony charges, including felony murder for Funk’s death, false imprisonment, possession of a firearm by a felon, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
His attorney, Colleen Bradley, has stated in court that she doesn’t believe Flatoff is competent to stand trial. Records show the judge in Flatoff’s pending OWI trial requested a competency evaluation, which Bradley suggested could also be used for his felony murder case.
After the shootout, Flatoff was transported to an Oshkosh hospital, where special agents with the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation interviewed him. He told the agents he sparked the Eagle Nation dispute because his motorcycle was stolen, according to the criminal complaint.
Flatoff’s acquaintance, Vance Dalton, posted the $3,000 bond for his Outagamie County OWI case, then allegedly told Flatoff he’d have to pay $8,000 to get his bike back. Flatoff told the officers he considered this theft, prosecutors say.
“I have every intention of killing him,” Flatoff allegedly said of Dalton, adding that he “snapped” when he saw his motorcycle partially disassembled and repainted inside the Neenah shop.
Flatoff told police he planned to “cut Dalton’s throat” and then he would kill himself, according to the criminal complaint. He allegedly stated that if Dalton had appeared at Eagle Nation, “I would have probably killed him.”
Then he asked the special agents if anyone died during the hostage standoff, the complaint states. He allegedly said, “I hope nobody died,” and “with all the gunfire and shooting, that can happen.”
Dalton told reporters he warned several law enforcement agencies about Flatoff before the Eagle Nation standoff, to no avail.
“I had contacted the Outagamie County district attorney with my concerns—this guy’s going to do something stupid. He’s going to do something dumb. He’s going to hurt somebody. I had actually written to his judge, Judge Gage, and let him know that they needed to pull bond,” Dalton said, according to the Post-Crescent.
Dalton reportedly sent a letter, dated Nov. 23, to Judge MichaelmGage on the advice of the district attorney’s office. He warned the judge that Flatoff was violating the conditions of his bond by drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
In his letter, Dalton added that Flatoff “has been threatening a lot of people who he believes are responsible for his current charges.”
“I worry about losing the money, but more importantly I worry about him hurting someone. I wish I could just revoke the bond,” Dalton wrote, according to the Post-Crescent.
A New Distrust
Eagle Nation didn’t always distrust the local police.
The bike shop—located in an industrial area that’s undergoing development—was a hangout for members of the D.C. Eagles and Hell’s Lovers motorcycle clubs. But the Eagle Nation family says it was also a place where old-timers would drop in for coffee, or where kids would skateboard in the wintertime.
Erato and members of the D.C. Eagles organized annual toy drives for a children’s hospital for more than a decade. They also hosted a May Day Blood Run, where bikers donated blood during a swap meet, local news reports show.
Erato had an open-door policy with local cops to quell tensions between police and the biker community. In 2006, he clarified his role as a police liaison—rather than an undercover informant—for the Neenah police department.
“Rather than coming here and breaking down my doors and having 20 cops and guns and SWAT teams and all of the other crazy stuff, they knew they could wake me up at 2 o’clock in the morning and I would take them to any part of the building,” Erato said at the time, an eerie foreshadowing of two future run-ins with the Neenah squad.
Erato said his “professional relationship” with Neenah police started in the early 1990s when cops flew him and two other D.C. Eagles to New York to assist in a cold-case murder investigation, the Post-Crescent reported.
The 1984 slaying of Helen Asmuth, who was shot to death outside her lakefront home, has never been solved. (Her husband, James Asmuth, a key suspect and owner of Wisconsin Tissue Mills, died in 2013.)
Police sent Erato, who didn’t know Asmuth, to New York to track down a suspect who was affiliated with the motorcycle club and was friends with one of the Asmuths’ sons. Nothing came of it.
“We told them ahead of time: no wires, no testifying,” Erato told The Daily Beast. “We just did it to do them a favor. They showed us pictures of this murdered woman and asked if we would help.”
Kay Reetz, who retired in 2015 after 29 years as the district director of State Sen. Michael Ellis’s office, is trying to advocate for victims’ services on Erato’s behalf. She said she befriended him over the years as they worked on legislative issues.
Three Neenah police officers involved in the Dec. 5 standoff are on paid administrative leave, and others called to the scene have received counseling after the incident, according to local reports.
By contrast, Reetz said, Erato’s family only received two teddy bears from a volunteer crisis response team. The soonest Erato could get into the VA for counseling session, meanwhile, is in March, Reetz said.
“Where is the justice for the victims?” Reetz said of Erato and Funk. “Someone should be looking at them as victims. They’re not even looking at Steve as a hostage.”
Reetz, a community activist, said people are associating Neenah’s police with the Manitowoc police department, whose alleged corruption is detailed in the Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer.
“I’m hearing from many people who feel the same way. It really has to make you wonder,” she said. “If eight weeks go on and the little Neenah police chief and mayor aren’t saying anything, the question is why.
“As long as Steven Avery is in the limelight, Eagle Nation will be right along with it.”
Dan Dringoli, a former Neenah cop who is now an investigator for Erato, said the biker was always aboveboard during their years of working together.
“He said, ‘Here’s a key. Come through any time. I don’t want you guys to have to break windows,’” Dringoli told The Daily Beast of Erato.
“Was he president of the D.C. Eagles? Yes. But he is a true, sincere guy, and they want to paint him as something else,” Dringoli added.
Dringoli has experienced his own troubles with his former employer, the Neenah police department.
The ex-cop was targeted with an internal investigation, which he claimed in a subsequent lawsuit was retaliation for helping expose misconduct by the Neenah SWAT team, which in 2000 took a training trip to Florida where a female officer shared a room with male colleagues. (The city’s Police Commission confirmed the officers lied about the coed stay but didn’t take disciplinary action.)
The allegedly dubious probe brought the Neenah SWAT team to Dringoli’s home in March 2005—prompting Dringoli to file and settle a federal lawsuit with the city a year later.
Months after the raid on his home, Dringoli was charged with six counts of misconduct in office and two counts of premature disclosure of a search warrant—all of which were eventually dismissed at the prosecutor’s request.
“The state simply cannot prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is our burden,” special prosecutor Susan Karaskiewicz said at the time.
Dringoli’s attorney, Robert Bellin, asked the state Department of Justice, and later the FBI, to investigate the Neenah police department, stating the actions of police were “so outrageous and egregious that we believe a criminal investigation is in order.”
“The same SWAT team I spoke up about raided my house,” Dringoli told The Daily Beast, adding, “They said I had a relationship with the bikers.”
Lt. John Karner, a member of the SWAT team, signed an affidavit in support of the search warrant, court records show. In the city’s answer to Dringoli’s civil complaint, attorneys admit that “Lt. Karner for a period of approximately 1 day, mislead supervisors about hotel accommodations involving three other NPD officers on a trip to Florida.”
Erato’s own rapport with local cops seems to have soured sometime after his 5-year-old son, Vincent, was killed in a car crash in January 2004.
His then-wife, Merica Kabke, was driving Vincent to church on Sunday morning and ran a stop sign, colliding with a truck. Prosecutors said Vincent wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and the boy later died from severe head injuries at a Milwaukee children’s hospital.
Kabke was convicted of homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle for the accident. In December 2004, a Winnebago County judge sentenced Kabke to 18 months in prison and 4½ years of extended supervision.
While supporters rallied around Kabke, then 28 years old, asking for probation and calling her a “good mother” who had suffered enough, Judge Scott Woldt wasn’t as forgiving.
Woldt dwelled on Kabke’s admission that she smoked marijuana regularly for 14 years, and said her actions were so negligent that it was “almost making this intentional,” according to a Post-Crescent report.
“I think you were high,” the judge scolded. “I think you caused it; it wasn’t an accident.”
Her public defender, Colleen Bradley, said Kabke was trying to start “a new life” after years of abusing drugs and alcohol. She grew up in a “chaotic environment” and ran away at age 16. She worked a stint as an exotic dancer, married young and divorced an “abusive” man, and later put herself through cosmetology school, the Post-Crescent reported.
Kabke was pregnant during her sentencing—sparking a debate on whether women should give birth in a prison environment. She was shackled during labor and immediately after delivering their baby, Erato told the Post-Crescent.
She was granted early release in February 2006.
The couple’s troubles with the law, however, were far from over.
Erato had filed a complaint with the state’s Crime Victims Rights Board in December 2005, claiming he was not allowed to make a statement at Kabke’s sentencing per Wisconsin law.
As the victim’s father, Erato planned to make a statement in court, pleading for leniency for Kabke, saying that she made a mistake while driving. Erato also planned to mention dubious allegations against the judge and the district attorney, saying they, too, were rumored to have checkered pasts, the lawsuit states.
Judge Woldt, along with district attorney William Lennon, was penalized by the state for denying Erato the right to speak, records show (PDF).
Erato believes this bad blood may have contributed to the judge signing off on a raid, in which a local drug task force—the Lake Winnebago Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group—broke down Eagle Nation’s doors in September 2012.
Cops pounced on Eagle Nation after officers with the task force claimed to witness a drug deal in the alley behind Eagle Nation Cycles on Sept. 20, according to a 2014 lawsuit filed by Erato and Funk—to the tune of $50 million—that all but accused the Neenah police of framing the bikers so the city could obtain their building.
The federal suit claims Neenah police, with the help of the drug task force, swarmed Eagle Nation with full tactical gear and armored tanks.
Defendants in the case include the city of Neenah, the Neenah police department and Judge Woldt—who presided over Kabke’s homicide case and who would later sign off on the search warrant.
Judge Woldt—whose brother is a sheriff’s deputy and member of the task force—“should have advised that a different judge sign the warrant as there would be an appearance of bias,” the lawsuit states.
Authorities believed this was probable cause for a SWAT search of Eagle Nation, despite the bike shop being part of a mixed-use building, and the alley also abutting two bars, including one that is known as the “Crack Shack” due to its reputation for open drug use and deals, according to court documents.
The warrant claimed Eagle Nation—a certified Disabled Veteran’s Business—was being used in a complex drug manufacturing and distribution operation run by the Hell’s Lovers motorcycle gang, the lawsuit states.
On Sept. 21, 2012, around 1 p.m., members of the Neenah Police Department and the LWAMEG Unit descended on Eagle Nation with an “armored tank-like vehicle… bombarding the occupants with assault weapons drawn, screaming profanities and abuse, all while wearing plain clothes and facemasks,” the suit charges.
None of the first officers to enter the bike shop wore police uniforms in the raid, which was supervised by Neenah police chief Kevin Wilkinson, court papers charge.
The lawsuit claims that several of the officers involved in the raid “would have known that such force was wholly unnecessary, given their close personal and long-standing working relationship with Erato and Eagle Nation Cycles.”
The SWAT team searched every business and residence within the Eagle Nation Cycles’ building. The only thing cops found, however, was a small amount of marijuana in the chopper shop’s offices.
Erato believes the weed was planted.
In his lawsuit, he states that video equipment was seized by SWAT officers and not returned for several months.
When Erato got the footage back, he noticed that one recording “suspiciously” cuts out following an officer’s entry into the room. The video resumes 20 seconds later, after the cop makes the alleged discovery of marijuana.
Neenah’s attorneys have denied police doctored the video in court papers. “We deny the accusation. I don’t know what their basis is for that allegation. I don’t even know if it’s true,” city attorney Godlewski said.
After the search, senior police officers openly discussed what charges to bring against Erato, according to the lawsuit. The arresting officer, Renee Porter, allegedly questioned whether the charges against Erato were appropriate and was fired days later, the lawsuit charges.
Erato initially faced 15 felony counts, including two counts of maintaining a drug trafficking place and seven counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was convicted of misdemeanor THC possession, and all other charges were dropped, court records show.
“Despite the claims made in the warrant, no evidence of a drug manufacturing or distribution operation was discovered in the property,” the lawsuit states.
The day after the roundup, the Neenah fire marshal, building inspector, water inspector, and Police Chief Wilkinson arrived at Eagle Nation’s building complex to conduct an inspection. Afterward, the city sent Erato a notice that he could no longer lease units in his building, despite zoning allowing for residential use, the lawsuit charges.
City attorney Godlewski said Erato’s building isn’t approved to residential zoning. “We weren’t aware that the basement was split up into separate sleeping rooms, and he was not properly zoned,” Godlewski said. “The fact is we discovered the situation there as a result of the search warrant.”
In the lawsuit, Erato and Funk called the Neenah raid “an attempt to force Eagle Nation Cycles out of business.”
“Eagle Nation Cycles is located on a prime piece of property located in a developmental district of downtown,” the lawsuit states. “Finding a large cache of drugs would have resulted in an easy acquisition of property for the city.”
Erato echoed this fear to The Daily Beast.
“We’re located in a primary part of downtown that used to be an industrial area,” he said. “This building is worth a couple million and they want it.”
Last month, Neenah’s city council approved investing $1.37 million for a proposed $6 million downtown tower project—just down the road from Eagle Nation, the Post-Crescent reported.
Eagle Nation Cycles is smack in the center of the development. Under the plans, the developer would purchase and raze a sports bar—owned by Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert, and situated east of the bike shop.
The city would provide 161 parking stalls, partially on the site of a former auto body shop, which is west of Eagle Nation.
Meanwhile, Erato’s lawsuit against the city was dismissed last week.
The city’s attorneys claim they informed Eagle Nation’s attorney, Cole White, about depositions scheduled in November 2015, but that Funk and Erato never showed up.
“Obviously, who wouldn’t show up for a $50 million hearing? OK. We weren’t told about it at all,” Erato told WBAY, adding that he would meet with a new attorney.
Erato declined to comment further on his case’s dismissal.
Meanwhile, Funk’s daughter, Athea Callahan, said she just wants to have her questions answered about her father’s death.
“I just wanna know, did he threaten the police at all? Did he give them any reason? Was there opportunity to do anything besides lethal force?” Callahan told The Daily Beast.
Godlewski said the city was “sincerely sympathetic” to Callahan’s concerns.
“We didn’t ask for this situation to come up,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the ultimate resolution of this by the Department of Justice report when it does come out.”