ST. PAUL, Minn. – Two police officers in Minnesota have been disciplined for a June incident in which a black man was severely injured after being kicked by an officer and bitten by a police dog, St. Paul’s police chief said Friday as he released video of the confrontation.
The June 24 incident on St. Paul’s east side wasn’t revealed until Friday, after what Chief Todd Axtell said was a careful investigation. Police reports show the man was stopped because one of the officers believed he matched the description of a man reported to have a gun.
“I’m disappointed and upset by what the video shows,” Axtell said. “This simply isn’t the St. Paul way.”
Axtell said he has twice met with the man, identified in police reports as 53-year-old Frank Baker, and apologized both times.
Baker, of St. Paul, suffered several broken ribs, partly collapsed lungs and serious bites that left his leg disfigured, said his attorney, Robert Bennett. He said Baker needed several surgeries and skin grafts.
The officer who kicked Baker, Brett Palkowitsch, was put on unpaid leave starting Thursday. Police said a complaint had been filed and an investigation of Palkowitsch was underway, but they could not provide details because of state law. The dog’s handling officer, Brian Ficcadenti, was given a 30-day suspension that began Thursday.
The fuzzy police dashcam video shows the police dog taking Baker to the ground as he yells in pain. Six officers surrounded him, some shouting and swearing and ordering him not to move as the dog bites him. One officer is seen kicking Baker three times.
David Titus, the head of the St. Paul police union, said officers were responding to a dangerous area. He said the officers acted within policy and followed their training.
Chris Wachtler, an attorney for the union, said the incident wouldn’t have happened had Baker complied with officers’ orders.
Police said the officers were responding to a report of a large group of people fighting with baseball bats and other weapons, including a report of one person with a gun. In his incident report, Ficcadenti said he stopped Baker because he thought he matched a description of that person – a black man in a white T-shirt with dreadlocks.
Ficcadenti wrote that he ordered Baker out of a car and ordered him to raise both hands. Ficcadenti said Baker refused and that he released his police dog “to eliminate a possible lethal force encounter.”
Baker was cited for obstructing the legal process, a misdemeanour, but was not charged. Police said Friday that they found no gun on Baker or at the scene.
The confrontation happened the day after Axtell took over as chief. He said the department has learned from the incident and increased training.
The news comes in a metropolitan area that’s seen two high-profile fatal shootings of black men by police in the past year.
Jamar Clark, 24, was killed last November in Minneapolis during a struggle in which prosecutors determined police feared for their lives as Clark tried to grab an officer’s weapon. Philando Castile, 32, was shot during a July 6 traffic stop in Falcon Heights. The shooting’s gruesome aftermath was streamed live on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend, who said Castile was shot while reaching for his ID after telling an officer he had a gun permit and was armed. Prosecutors are still reviewing that case for possible charges.