Karen Shafer was in her backyard late one night when a St. Paul police dog broke from its pursuit of a car thief and came after her, biting her three times while ignoring commands from its human partner.
Those are the allegations Shafer is levying in a lawsuit filed Thursday against the city of St. Paul for a 2013 attack by a police K-9, Rebel, that resulted in 17 stitches in her right hand, left leg and left arm.
“Once the dog latched onto my arm, the officer told the dog to release three times,” Shafer said Thursday. “The dog still didn’t release. The officer placed his thumbs inside the dog’s mouth and lifted him in the air to release.”
Shafer said that bite to the arm lasted about two minutes. Once the officer, Matthew Yunker, had his dog under control, Shafer slammed the door shut on them.
According to the suit and Shafer: The incident began about 12:35 a.m. July 7 after an apparent car thief crashed a vehicle across the street from Shafer’s home in the Frogtown neighborhood and fled on foot. Shafer was in her backyard with some friends, and walked up to the gate of her four-foot chain-link fence.
She said she hadn’t noticed the dog until it jumped up at her and bit her right hand. She turned and ran for her home. Somehow, the dog got into the yard and chased her. Shafer thinks the dog pushed past the unlatched gate.
The dog caught up to Shafer and bit her left thigh, taking out a small chunk of flesh that now sports a quarter-sized scar after doctors removed damaged skin.
Shafer broke free and was able to run into the back entryway of her home. The dog caught up and latched onto her left arm.
By that time, Yunker had caught up with Rebel. Shafer’s suit does not name Yunker or Rebel, but St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders confirmed they were at Shafer’s home that night. Linders declined to comment on the lawsuit.
An ambulance took Shafer to the emergency room. The certified nursing assistant received 17 stitches to her three wounds, which are permanently scarred.
“My arm hurt worse than anything,” she said.
She said she couldn’t work for two months because of the stitches in her hand and physical therapy, and still experiences some swelling and numbness in one finger.
Shafer and her attorney, Edward Risch, said she has about $7,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Yunker and Rebel remain assigned to the department’s K-9 unit, according to Linders.