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City will not settle Knepper's case without trial

By Cyndy Cole

Tuesday October 2, 2001

UA student's story does not make sense, city officials say

The UA student who lost his eye after a "less-than-lethal" beanbag struck his face in the April 2 Fourth Avenue riots will sue the city of Tucson for negligence within the next three weeks, said his lawyer, Carl Piccarreta.

University of Arizona business freshman Jeff Knepper previously filed a claim for $3 million against the city, claiming the city acted negligently when a Tucson Police Department officer fired the beanbag that struck Knepper's eye.

However, the city decided not to settle out of court for now, said City Risk Manager Terry Anderson.

Anderson said some parts of Knepper's story about the shooting during the Fourth Avenue riots did not make sense.

Knepper said he ran away from the dispersed crowd on Fourth Avenue following the University of Arizona's loss in the NCAA men's basketball tournament championship game, but was struck in the eye with the beanbag when he turned around to look back at the crowd.

However, Anderson said if Knepper was running, he would likely have been out of the 30-foot range of less-than-lethal beanbags.

In order to win the case, the city must prove TPD officers were justified in shooting Knepper and that shooting him in the face was justified, Piccarreta said.

For Knepper to prevail, he and his attorney must prove that police acted negligently, Piccarreta said.

The identity of the officer who fired the beanbag that struck Knepper remains unknown.

At this point, TPD and city officials are still sorting through what happened during the riot.

"We really don't know why he got shot," Anderson said.

The city and TPD may not be responsible for Knepper's injury, Anderson said. He said that under certain scenarios, the city would not be liable.

"If (Knepper) is down in the crowd, and they're not dispersing, and they're down there to raise heck, and they're not dispersing, he put himself in harm's way," Anderson said.

The lawsuit will allow Piccarreta and Anderson to gather more information about why and how Knepper was shot.

This week, Anderson and a lawyer will go through all of the claims from the Fourth Avenue riots, reviewing 25 videotapes and thousands of pages of police reports.

"The Knepper claim is at the top of our list," Anderson said. He referred to the loss of Knepper's eye as "the most tragic incident" resulting from the riot.

The city will likely spend more than four months reviewing Knepper's case.

"I don't think this is going to be a quick settlement," Anderson said.

The city could choose to settle the claim by paying Knepper $3 million, or Knepper and the city could go to court to receive a jury verdict. At any point, the two parties can make an out-of-court settlement through a mediator.

Knepper, who dropped his classes as a result of the injury last spring but is currently enrolled at the UA, claims he spent $20,000 on lost tuition and medical expenses because of his the injury.

Knepper and his attorney filed a claim July 26 that gave the city 60 days to reply.

Knepper said he was walking away from Fourth Avenue on East Eighth Street at approximately 10 p.m. when he was struck by a beanbag. Knepper's injury was the most serious reported during the riot, where an estimated 450 rounds of less-than-lethal ammunitions were used.


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