Monetary damages are the only remaining issue for a jury to decide in a lawsuit filed by a St. Paul woman bitten by a police dog last September, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim said Thursday the St. Paul police violated Desiree Collins' civil rights when police K-9 Gabe bit her during a search in September 2017. She was an innocent bystander taking out her trash when the dog bit her while searching for a burglary suspect.
Now Tunheim said a jury will decide how much the city should pay Collins. Her lawsuit contends she was unconstitutionally detained when Gabe bit down and his handler was unable to get the dog to release for at least 30 seconds. Gabe is no longer with the department.
Tunheim's 20-page order said the case is unusual because the facts aren't in dispute and the city acknowledges this was a "terrible mistake."
Gabe's handler, officer Thaddeus Schmidt, had sought dismissal of the case, arguing his actions were negligent but didn't rise to the level of a constitutional violation. But Tunheim said Schmidt's lack of appropriate control of his dog was worse than negligent — it was "reckless."
A police spokesman declined to comment because the matter is an active case.
The case was one of three high-profile K-9 bites that prompted the department to hire former Chief Bill Finney to audit the canine operation.
In the most recent case, Glenn L. Slaughter, 33, was leaving for work on July 6 when he was attacked on the city's East Side about 1:40 a.m. by police K-9 Suttree after the dog broke free of its collar and ignored several commands from its handler. In a case on June 24, 2016, Frank Baker was mistaken for a suspect and bitten by a dog and kicked by an officer.
In an incident on May 15, K-9 Jaeger "nipped" at a 10-year-old boy and left a red scratch on his stomach during a public demonstration.