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St. Paul to pay $520,000 to bystander attacked by police K-9

September 28, 2018

The city of St. Paul will pay $520,000 to a woman who was attacked by a police K-9 in 2017 while taking out her trash, leaving her so traumatized she had to move out of her home.

The City Council met behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss the settlement that was reached with Desiree Collins, who sued the city and St. Paul police officer Thaddeus Schmidt, the K-9 handler at the time, in federal court. Collins attorneys, Bob Bennett and Andy Noel, and the city agreed on the settlement Wednesday evening.

Shes pleased and shes glad that she can put this lawsuit behind her and move on with life, Noel said of his client. Itd call it an excellent result.

Noel said that Collins was declining comment on the settlement.

In an interview with the Star Tribune earlier this year, Collins said that the Sept. 23, 2017 attack left her unable to care for herself for days, made her feel unsafe in her own home and caused her to be fearful of dogs of all sizes. Collins has one hand; the K-9 attacked that arm.

I didnt deserve that, she said. I didnt do anything wrong.

Collins said at the time that she saw a therapist regularly to cope with the trauma.

Noel said Friday that she continues to see a therapist.

Shes doing really well, he said. Shes had some good times and shes had bad times. The litigation is a new thing for her, and it puts a strain on anyone.

The citys liability in the attack was not addressed in the settlement, Noel said, adding that a federal judge already ruled in August that St. Paul police violated Collins civil rights in the attack.

The Collins case is among a number of recent attacks by St. Paul police K-9s that prompted a major overhaul of how the dogs are used for human apprehension. In 2016, Frank Baker was attacked by a K-9 and kicked by an officer after being wrongly identified as a suspect. Noel and Bennett won a record $2 million settlement with the city for Baker.

On May 15 of this year, K-9 Jaeger was being handled by officer Christopher Hetland when it bit a 10-year-old boy in the stomach and left a bleeding wound. The K-9 was giving a demonstration to a group of children and parents at the citys Rice and Arlington Sports Complex when the boy approached the dog from behind and reached out his hand.

On July 6, bystander Glenn Slaughter was attacked by a K-9 while walking to his car. Mayor Melvin Carter and St. Paul police issued a joint statement on July 9 announcing an audit of the K-9 unit and restricting their use for human apprehension to incidents where police or others are facing great bodily harm or possible death.

But Carter introduced the idea of pulling back on K-9s in a June 10 e-mail to his staff reacting to a Star Tribune article published that day reviewing six years of K-9 bite reports.

Im disgusted by it, Carter wrote in the June e-mail. I dont imagine the dogs are aware of our new policy. If all of our K-9s are trained to find and bite anyone they encounter while working, Im considering demanding a timeout on the whole unit until they can all be reliably retrained.

In April, St. Paul released a new policy limiting K-9 apprehension, saying the move was part of ongoing efforts to review all of its policies. It prohibited apprehensions solely on the basis of nonviolent allegations such as auto theft, among others.

The changes made in July go farther in restricting the use of K-9s for apprehension, and also require twice monthly testing of handlers control of their dogs and the dogs recall and release skills. K-9 teams that dont meet training standards will be removed from patrol.

The Star Tribunes review found that in 133 K-9 reports filed between January 2012 and mid-December 2017, there was no verbal threat against officers 95 percent of the time, and no weapons were brandished against police in about 96 percent of the calls. It also showed that some bystanders were attacked while handlers were following common practices.

Collins said in the article that the K-9 that attacked her, Gabe, ignored his handlers orders to release the bite, and had to be forcibly removed. The claim that K-9s repeatedly ignore their handlers was consistent with several other accounts, including the attack on Slaughter and a 2013 attack on Karen Shafer.

Noel and Bennett are also representing Slaughter. They have yet to file a suit against the city in that case, but continue to collect police evidence in the case, Noel said.

The City Council met behind closed doors in August for an informational meeting about the Slaughter case.

The City Council will vote at a later date to formally approve the Collins settlement. Schmidt and Gabe left the K-9 unit after the attack on Collins.

Documents from the city show that Gabe had a string of troubling bites long before the attack on Collins. He was so worked up in a 2014 burglary call and a 2016 alarm call that he attacked furniture in the unoccupied buildings. He knocked down and bit a bystander near a bus stop in 2016.

Chao Xiong 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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