St. Paul will pay $520,000 to a woman attacked by a police dog last year while taking out her trash, leaving her so traumatized she had to move out of her home.
The City Council met behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss the settlement reached with Desiree Collins, who sued the city and St. Paul police officer Thaddeus Schmidt, the K-9 handler at the time, in federal court. Collins’ attorneys, Bob Bennett and Andy Noel, agreed to the settlement Wednesday.
“She’s pleased and she’s glad that she can put this lawsuit behind her and move on with life,” Noel said.
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.
In an interview earlier this year, Collins said that the Sept. 23, 2017, attack made her feel unsafe in her home and caused her to be fearful of dogs. Collins has one hand; the dog attacked that arm. “I didn’t deserve that,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Noel said Friday that Collins continues to see a therapist to cope with the trauma.
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. (Exceptions can be made.)
But Carter introduced the idea of pulling back on K-9s in a June 10 e-mail to his staff, reacting to a Star Tribune article published that day reviewing six years of K-9 bite reports.
St. Paul released a new policy in April prohibiting K-9 apprehension for nonviolent allegations such as auto theft. The changes made in July go further in restricting their use, and also require twice monthly testing of handlers’ control of their dogs and the dogs’ recall and release skills.
Sgt. Mike Ernster, a police spokesman, said handlers and K-9s have been passing the tests.
The status of the six-month audit is unclear. Former St. Paul police chief William Finney, who is being paid $50,000 to lead the study with an additional $50,000 for expenses, did not return messages Friday. Carter’s office deferred questions about it to police, who didn’t know what had been accomplished so far.