Criminal charges filed against Green Bay police officer

At issue: Did his report conflict with what actually happened?
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 9:25 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2023 at 9:47 AM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A 13-year veteran of the Green Bay Police Department is formally charged in Brown County court for his actions when he helped take a person into custody.

Officer Matthew Knutson is charged with Misconduct in Office Through Fraudulent Record or Statement, which is a felony. He’s also charged with misdemeanor Negligent Operation of a Vehicle. The felony charge carries up to 3½ years in prison if convicted; the misdemeanor carries not more than 9 months.

Knutson, 40, was not booked at the Brown County Jail. He will make his initial appearance on May 17.

He’s been on paid administrative leave since October 22.

As Action 2 News reported Tuesday, Knutson hit a man with his squad car in November 2021, while other officers were tracking the man down on foot. The man, who had warrants for his arrest, ran away from a traffic stop for failing to yield the right of way. Knutson’s squad car knocked him to the ground, and he was taken into custody. The man is heard on bodycam video saying he can’t breathe, and Knutson tells him, “You’re not hurt.”

The police department said it was made aware of Knutson’s actions almost a year later by the Brown County District Attorney’s Office, in October 2022, and found Officer Knutson’s police report potentially conflicted with video and other documents from the arrest.

According to the complaint, Knutson’s report says he drove close to the suspect in the driveway of an apartment complex and yelled through his open window, “‘Get on the ground’ or something to that effect.” Knutson says he then accelerated to go up a slight incline on the driveway and the suspect ran in front of him. “The speed of my squad is estimated at [less than] 5 mph. The contact caused between my vehicle and the male was unintentional. It caused him to fall initially.”

Knutson went on to report, “He said his leg (left) hurt from running but was not injured from either being tased by Ofc. Ainsworth or from the contact with my squad, or from getting him into custody. He said he was out of breath and said he had difficulty breathing (as is expected from running several blocks).”

The criminal complaint goes on to describe what Knutson’s squad car camera showed. In part it reads,

“Officer Knutson’s squad appears to proceed up the apron incline from the road to the apartment complex parking lot. The male is past this incline and entering the grass. At 3 minutes and 47 seconds, the front driver’s side of Officer Knutson’s squad contacts the back of the male. A squad speed was not visible on the camera footage.... The male goes down in front of the squad and momentarily is out of camera view.”

The complaint continues describing what his bodycam showed, in part:

“The squad stops and Officer Knutson yells, ‘get on the ground.’ Footage shows his driver’s side window open. He exits his car and approaches the front of his squad where [the suspect] is now up on his feet. Officer Knutson pushes [the suspect] to the ground and instructs him to put his arms behind his back.”

Article continues below the video. Green Bay police news conference on April 18, 2023. Warning: Video may be disturbing to some viewers.

When the suspected driver was in custody, Knutson asked, “So when you ran into my car, you didn’t hurt anything did you?” The man shook his head no.

The Brown County Sheriff’s Office detective reviewing the incident wrote, “I did not hear [the suspect] say his leg hurt from running” as Knutson claimed in his report.

A conversation with the suspect recorded by a camera in the back seat of Knutson’s squad car shows the suspect breathing hard and lying down. A sergeant asks him what’s wrong, and he says, “My leg.” The sergeant asks if he needs medical attention and the man says no. The sergeant asks if he pulled a muscle running and the man replies, “He hit me with his vehicle.”

The sergeant sounds surprised and replies, “Vehicle?”

“He hit me.”

“You think he hit you with a car?”

“I know he did.”

When the sergeant points out he’s being recorded the man replies, “OK. Thank you.”