A Wellington police officer faces a host of charges including a felony charge of improper handling of weapons in a motor vehicle following a single-car crash Sunday believed to be a suicide attempt.
Patrol officer Richard Shawn Kneisel has been taken off the work schedule until further notice, Wellington Police Chief Tim Barfield said Wednesday.
According to a report from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were called about a truck that had reportedly been playing loud music in a parking lot on State Route 60. Deputies saw that a 2017 Dodge Ram appeared to have driven through a barricade and off a bridge over the Ohio Turnpike in Florence County that had been under construction, coming to rest about five to 10 feet below the bridge’s bed and sustaining heavy damage to the front bumper and both front wheel wells.
A sheriff’s deputy saw a man exit the truck without shoes and walk toward him on the bridge, who identified himself as a police officer. The report identified the man as Richard Shawn Kneisel, 34, of Vermilion. Kneisel is listed on the Wellington municipal website as a patrol officer.
According to the report, Kneisel smelled of alcohol, and there were empty beer cans in the church parking lot and in the truck. Deputies also found in the truck a pistol with a full magazine, an additional magazine for the pistol and one for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
The report also stated that Kneisel made suicidal statements, and a neighbor said he’d seen Kneisel drinking earlier that evening and asked if a nearby horse fence was electrified. Kneisel refused a field sobriety test at the scene, and was taken to Firelands Regional Medical Center in Sandusky for a mental health evaluation.
In addition to the felony charge of improperly handling a firearm in a motor vehicle, Kneisel also faces misdemeanor charges of using a weapon while intoxicated, operating a vehicle under the influence, driving on a closed roadway and having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.
Kneisel has worked as a patrolman for the Village Police department since November 2013. He joined the police department after serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2012, leaving as an infantry section leader.
Barfield said he knew about Kneisel’s military history and that he had struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but thought he was getting help.
“To me this isn’t about him, it’s about the fact that PTSD and mental health is an issue and they don’t get the attention they need,” he said. “I don’t excuse what Shawn did other than the fact that he has some demons and he spent time in the sandbox where he has seen things and had to say goodbye to friends.”
Barfield said he has never seen him have an issue with substance abuse and only known him to drink socially. He added that aside from standard benefits of physical and mental health, he started putting local first respondents through mental health first aid training last year. He also plans to continue that training as long as he is in his position.
Wellington Village Mayor Hans Schneider said he hopes people don’t rush to judgment on Kneisel just yet and focus more on his mental health.
“Our concern is with Shawn and his family and that he gets all the support and what he needs in his life right now,” Schneider said.
The report said Kneisel was scheduled for arraignment Tuesday in Vermilion, but court officials said the hearing was postponed and has not been rescheduled.
Kneisel remained hospitalized Wednesday.