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EVANSVILLE, Ind. — A man who died in police custody Friday night, died after he was punched by one of the officers trying to handcuff him. When two Evansville cops were attempting to cuff Edward Snukis, 55, he grabbed one of the officers near the groin and would not let go, said an officer at a Monday news conference.

Sgt. Jason Cullum said the man was tazed and it did not stop him from fighting with officers Matthew Taylor or Trevor Koontz. He also ran from them and fought them when they tried to get him to give up peacefully.

Taylor has been with the department for five years, and Koontz since January.

“We have not found any specific action by the officers that would meet the definition of deadly force. The force that was used by the officers falls under the less than lethal classifications,” said Cullum. “There is no indication of any criminal or negligent behavior by the officers.”

Cullum said the level of force used, a taser, striking pressure points, and finally the punch to the head, were equal to the level of resistance from Snukis, which Cullum said is in policy. The two officers are on administrative leave while the department investigates, but will be allowed back on the job, he said.

“The issue of force being used prior to his death and while we were trying to arrest him, is pertinent to the investigation. However, the results of the autopsy will be a crucial part of the investigation.”

Cullum said officers believe the man was on something, but they do not know what. He had no drugs or alcohol or weapons on him. The several people who called 911 about Snukis as he hung around car lots and auto repair shops on the same street, also believed he was impaired.

When officers found him after several attempts, they say he refused to comply, fought with them, ran, and fought with them again. That’s when he grabbed one of the cops by the thigh and would not let go, prompting the punch. When they got the cuffs on, he stopped breathing. One of the officers is a former EMT, had an AED, and started manual CPR. 

Snukis, who had no criminal history that Evansville PD could find, died at the hospital.

Cullum said the department handles their own investigations of such incidents, and the investigators are awaiting the cause and manner of death from the coroner, which is pending toxicology tests.

(PHOTO: m-gucci/Thinkstock)