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Minnesota woman sues police over violent attack by police dog caught on camera

Click to play video: 'Woman sues St. Paul police after she’s attacked by K-9 police dog'
Woman sues St. Paul police after she’s attacked by K-9 police dog
WARNING: Video contains violent images not suitable for all viewers. Discretion is advised. – Dec 8, 2017

A St. Paul, Minn., woman, who says a police dog attacked her while she was taking out the trash, is suing her local police department.

Now police have released body camera footage of the attack, which took place on Sept. 23.

“What did I do!?” Desiree Collins, 52, is heard screaming after officers pull the dog off her.

“Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, ma’am,” one of the officers replies.

According to the St. Paul Police Department, the incident occurred in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, as police responded to a call of a burglary in progress.

READ MORE: Muslim teen thanks transit ‘hero’ who defended her against an alleged racist attack

According to court documents, as officers, including the K9 unit of Officer Thaddeus Schmidt and his dog, Gabe, searched the area for two burglary suspects alleged to have fled on foot, Collins says she was taking out the garbage to a nearby dumpster.

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Police body camera footage captures what happened next, as Gabe circles behind the dumpster – and moments later, Collins’ screams for help can be heard.

“Oh, there’s a lady!” one of the officers can be heard saying as they circle the dumpster, finding Collins on the ground screaming while the K9 had sunk its teeth into her right arm.

In her lawsuit, Collins alleges the dog first bit her on the leg, causing her to fall to the ground, before biting her arm. The attack continued for nearly 30 seconds as officers tried to pry the dog off, first with verbal commands and then by activating the dog’s shock collar.

Collins says the bites left her with permanent scars on her arm and leg.

“My heart breaks when I watch this video,” St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a statement to media. “What happened to Ms. Collins was a terrible accident that should not have occurred. I am sorry it happened and that she was injured.”

Despite the apology, Collins and her attorney, Andrew Noel, say the attack represented a violation of her civil rights: for starters, because the dog was on a six-metre leash, too long for his handler to control. Collins’ suit also alleges she was not given any verbal warning by police before the attack took place.

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“The bottom line is this was a situation that could have been avoided if the dog was kept on a shorter leash and proper warnings were given,” Noel told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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Her suit also calls on the department to implement changes to the K9 policies and training to prevent a similar accident from taking place again.

“Part of the reason for the lawsuit is, she says, ‘if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,’” Noel said.

“She wants St. Paul to make the appropriate changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

In his statement to media, Axtell agreed that departmental changes would likely be coming as a result of the attack.

“As a department, we wish we could go back and do things differently. Unfortunately, we can’t. What we can do is apologize and take responsibility, offer support and compassion, and learn from the incident so we can continue to work to prevent it from happening to anyone else.”

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