St. Paul, MN — Last year, Desiree Collins, a 52-year-old St. Paul resident, learned the hard way what can happen when a K9 officer loses control of his dog. St. Paul police officer Thaddeus P. Schmidt claims he lost control of his K-9, Gabe, when it attacked Collins, ripping her arm into shreds. The entire incident was caught on the body cameras of the officers involved and the taxpayers of St. Paul are shelling out over a half million to pay for the officer's negligence.
The City Council and Collins' attorny, Andy Noel met behind closed doors this week to discuss and reach the settlement, according to the Star Tribune.
“She’s pleased and she’s glad that she can put this lawsuit behind her and move on with life,” Noel said.
According to the Tribune, the deal was compelled by a decision issued by U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in August finding that police violated Collins’ civil rights, said St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson. The City Council will formally vote to approve the settlement at a future meeting.
Collins was attacked on Sept. 23, 2017 by Gabe near a dumpster along the 600 block of Van Buren Avenue. The woman can be heard in a long and sustained scream. "Ow!...Oh!", she shouted. The pain must have been intense as her eyes seemed to show the fear and horror she was experiencing.
The attack knocked her out of her shoes and onto the ground where Gabe had latched onto her arm. She screamed, he pulled, and then the St. Paul officers reached down to take control of her, helping her and attempting to get the dog off of her arm.
"Please, help me, oh!" Collins screamed in fear. "We're trying to get your arm," they responded. After they broke the dog's grip on her arm, they told her to stand up and they would get her some medical care for her injuries.
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Obviously shocked at the horrific attack, Collins asked, "What did I do to him?" The officers then responded saying "Nothing, it's not your fault." "You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time," they told her. They then promised the medics were on their way.
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell responded to the incident with apparent and surprising empathy. He said in a statement at the time:
My heart breaks when I watch this video...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.
However, the words ring hollow given the recent attacks on innocent people by St. Paul K9 officers. According to the Tribune:
The Collins case is among a number of recent attacks by St. Paul police dogs 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, K-9 Jaeger was being handled by officer Christopher Hetland at a demonstration when he bit a 10-year-old boy in the stomach and left a bleeding wound.
On July 6, bystander Glenn Slaughter was attacked by a police dog while walking to his car. Mayor Melvin Carter and St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell issued a joint statement on July 9 announcing an audit of the K-9 unit and restricting the dogs for human apprehension to incidents in which police or others are facing serious bodily harm or possible death.
As TFTP has reported on numerous occasions, the use of canines in police work is highly controversial. Not only are the dogs unpredictable but handlers can easily claim the dogs have "cued" in on drugs all in an effort to infringe on citizens' civil liberties in order to force convictions in situations where probable cause would be difficult to obtain.
In a recent study, researchers determined the connection between dog and handler is so close that even an officer's emotions can affect the way a dog reacts. In the case of Ms. Collins, the police were investigating a possible robbery, indicating the officer was likely running on adrenalin. The dog may have sensed as much and attacked Collins the minute he saw her. At any rate, the taxpayer, not the unscrupulous dog handler, will foot the bill when Ms. Collins wins her court case and receives her payout.