Town of Merrillville

MERRILLVILLE — The town of Merrillville has paid $375,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by an Oregon truck driver who served prison time for battering an officer in 2013.

Craig Strand filed a lawsuit in April 2015 seeking $3 million with the claim he acted in self-defense during a fight with Merrillville police Officer Curtis Minchuk on May 20, 2013 over a parking ticket outside a Planned Parenthood facility.

Minchuk ticketed Strand for parking a semitrailer in the lot, which led to a confrontation and fistfight that ended with Minchuk shooting Strand in the abdomen.

Strand survived the shooting and was convicted in 2014 of felony battery by a Lake Criminal Court jury. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison. 

Darnail Lyles, an attorney for Strand, filed a $3 million lawsuit against Minchuk and the town in U.S. District Court, alleging Minchuk violated Strand's constitutional rights by shooting him after he had put his hands in the air and surrendered.

The town has settled for $375,000, Lyles said.

“He has received the check,” Lyles told The Times.

The town's insurance carrier covered the cost of the settlement, according to an attorney representing the city. 

According to Strand's lawsuit, he received permission to park his truck in the Planned Parenthood parking lot and returned to find Minchuk had written two parking tickets.

Strand claims he attempted to discuss the tickets with Minchuk, but the officer had no interest in a discussion and then allegedly solicited a bribe from Strand. Strand then attempted to take pictures of the parking lot, thinking he might need them to show the absence of no-parking signs, but was confronted by Minchuk, according to the lawsuit.

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Strand accuses Minchuk of ordering him to leave immediately, threatening to call a tow truck, slapping Strand's cellphone to the ground and demanding Strand's identification.

According to the lawsuit, Strand asked for Minchuk's badge number and Minchuk grabbed Strand by the neck and shirt, pulling Strand's shirt off his body. The two struggled. Strand punched Minchuk at least three times and placed his hands on Minchuk's throat, causing the officer to see stars.

The suit states the fight stopped when Strand "stood up, backed four to six feet away from Officer Minchuk, put his hands up, and said, 'I surrender. Do whatever you think you need to do. I surrender, I'm done.'"

"While still on the ground, Minchuk responded by removing his gun from its holster and firing a shot at Strand," the lawsuit says.

At one time, Minchuk sought summary judgment from the district court, arguing he was entitled to qualified immunity because it was undisputed Minchuk could have reasonably believed Strand continued to pose a danger the moment Minchuk pulled the trigger.

However, U.S. District Judge James Moody ruled the level of threat Strand posed to Minchuk was in dispute, and that the case should proceed to trial so a jury could weigh the question.

Minchuk appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which upheld the district court's decision.

The suit has been dismissed with prejudice, records show. 

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.