The St. Paul City Council met behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss “threatened litigation” for last month’s K-9 attack on an innocent bystander.
The meeting comes despite the fact that Glenn Slaughter’s attorneys haven’t filed a claim or suit seeking damages. Nor is city Attorney Lyndsey Olson aware of a “demand letter” from them, an even lower-stakes entry point to compel settlement discussions.
Slaughter, 33, was leaving for work July 6 when police were looking for a man who was allegedly pointing a gun at homes in the area. Police K-9 Suttree’s collar snapped and he attacked Slaughter for nearly 30 seconds. The attack led to immediate reforms and a six-month audit of the unit.
The city’s movement on Slaughter’s case could be a reaction to several high-profile dog-bite cases in recent years, said Thomas Heffelfinger, an attorney for Kong Kue, another bystander attacked by a St. Paul K-9 and dragged by his face down an alley in May 2012.
“Now … they’ve got a K-9 department that’s costing them money,” Heffelfinger said. “If they were to litigate [the Slaughter case], it’s going to be more expensive for them.”
Slaughter’s attorney, Andrew Noel, said they are still gathering medical information and awaiting police reports and footage before a lawsuit will be filed.
The city’s responses to claims and lawsuits filed by victims of police K-9 bites between 2012 and early 2018 show strong pushback by the city. Claims are filed with the city’s human resources department and are a cheaper and less-demanding route to recovering damages before filing a lawsuit.
Kue’s experience is typical.
“Mr. Kue was intoxicated …” St. Paul’s claims manager, Sandra Bodensteiner, wrote in response to his claim. “…Your client placed himself in the situation.
“It’s a really, really shallow argument,” Heffelfinger said of the city’s stance.
Both Olson and Andrea Turner, director of St. Paul’s Human Resources office, which oversees claims, said the city wants to resolve claims fairly while being mindful of the cost to taxpayers.
A “respectful pushback” is to be expected, Olson said.
For Kue, who has scars from the bite and experiences numbness, it was a slap in the face. “It made me feel little, like you were nobody to them,” said Kue. He eventually received a $65,000 settlement.
In responding to a February 2015 claim by a woman attacked by a K-9 while smoking outside, Bodensteiner argued that she had a “mark” and not a “scar” from the bite. She offered the woman $3,200 in response to her attorney’s demand for $30,000.
“Your client has several tattoes [sic] on her body — including her left arm, so your statement that she is self-conscious about showing her arm does not match with the image of the woman who was photographed by Saint Paul Police …” Bodensteiner wrote in another response.
“My client considers her tattoos a form of art, something she carefully considered and then made the voluntary decision to receive,” wrote the woman’s attorney, Jessica Servais. “This is in stark contrast to the scars from the puncture wounds, something she did not ask for …”
The woman settled with the city in June 2016 for $7,500.
Wednesday’s council session was prompted by the “high-profile nature” of the attack on Slaughter, Olson said, and would be an “information session.”