ST. PAUL, Minn. - Two St. Paul police officers are currently suspended after an incident captured on squad car dash cam video shows an officer kicking a citizen while a K9 bites him repeatedly.
The video of the June 24 incident was released Friday -- a day after Officer Brett Palkowitsch was placed on unpaid leave and Officer Brian Ficcadenti was given a 30-day suspension. St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said there is a complaint filed against Palkowitsch, which is currently being investigated but he would not provide additional details.
Dash cam video of the arrest, which runs about a minute and a half, shows a group of officers running up to surround an African-American man, identified as 53-year-old Frank Baker, as he lay on the ground. While grainy and poor in quality, it is clear that a police dog is extensively and aggressively engaged with the man on the ground, and one officer is seen kicking the man at least three times.
"I'm releasing this video today because it's the right thing to do," said St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell on Friday. The incident happened one day after Axtell took over as chief.
Police emphasized at the press conference that no gun was ever found on Baker. Authorities say Baker was in the hospital for two weeks recovering from the severe dog bites he received that night, plus a broken rib and other injuries from being kicked by the officer.
Axtell said he met with Baker at the hospital and again on Friday, "deeply apologized" and assured him a full investigation was underway.
"I apologized and I believe truly in my heart that he appreciated that apology," Axtell said.
The incident happened just after 10 p.m. on June 24 and began with a 911 call reporting a large fight involving weapons on the 1800 block of 7th Street East. The caller described a black man with dreadlocks in a white T-shirt with a gun in his hand.
A squad car carrying Officer Brian Ficcadenti and his K9 Falco was the first to respond to the scene. In the official police report, Ficcadenti describes how he drove up on the address and witnessed a large group scatter, with some of the suspects running around to the back of an apartment building.
Ficcadenti drove into an alley behind the building, shined his spotlight on a row of cars and spotted a man matching the suspect's description inside an SUV.
The officer describes in the report removing his K9 from his squad and ordering the man to exit the vehicle with his hands up. The officer says Baker stepped out slowly with just one hand up, and because of Baker’s position he could not see his other hand.
Despite being ordered to, Ficcadenti insists Baker did not put both hands up and did not walk out from the cars and towards the officer. At that point, just 10 seconds into the encounter and believing Baker was an immediate threat, the officer released his K9 Falco and ordered him to apprehend Baker. The dog did, engaging the suspect and locking on to his right leg.
Baker can be heard screaming in agony in the video after Falco attacks.
Another officer describes driving up on the scene and seeing Falco locked in a bite on Baker, who despite orders would not stay still, allegedly turning on his side and flopping around, according to the police report. The officer then describes seeing an officer, identified as Palkowitsch, kick the man several times.
In his report Palkowitsch himself describes believing that Baker had a gun and delivering multiple kicks specifically to his midsection. Palkowitsch says he eventually handcuffed Baker, who was taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital with deep bite wounds. A search of his truck revealed what officers believed was a half-smoked marijuana joint, a backpack and a cell phone. No gun was found.
In their reports, all the officers involved spoke of a chaotic situation with residents of the apartment coming outside, yelling and videotaping with their cell phones.
Axtell said as a result of this incident, police training on de-escalation tactics have increased and the expectations of St. Paul officers has been reaffirmed -- specifically, how officers should handle arrests in a dynamic encounter involving a K9.
"We have an unwavering commitment to do the right thing and we're going to do everything in our power to make sure this doesn't happened again in the city of St. Paul," Axtell said.
Six St. Paul Police officers were involved in the incident. All but Palkowitsch and Ficcadenti remain on active duty in various assignments.
Axtell apologized for the video in a Facebook post, before it was released on Friday, saying he was "disappointed and upset" by what it showed.
He described the incident as "not the Saint Paul way."
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman released the following statement after the video was released:
“I am deeply disturbed by what I saw on the video. I have full faith that the Chief is handling this case appropriately and that appropriate discipline will be taken. While I want to be fully transparent, Minnesota law prevents me from talking about disciplinary action until any employee appeals period is over. Our community can take comfort in earlier cases, such as the incident that led to Sergeant Jeff Rothecker’s departure. I believe these cases show why the Saint Paul Police Department is one of the best in the country, that the Chief and officers care deeply about building relationships with the communities they serve and that there is no room in the department for officers who do not perform their duties with honor and respect.”