A St. Paul woman who was bitten three times by a St. Paul police dog that chased her through her yard and into her home was at fault in the incident, according to the city attorney's office.
In response to a lawsuit Karen Shafer served on the city for the attack by police dog Rebel, the city attorney's office issued an answer, dated Feb. 26, 2015, admitting that she was bitten and injured. But, the city attorney's office wrote, her injuries "if any, were caused by her own negligence, improper and/or illegal conduct, and/or by the negligence, improper and/or illegal conduct of another not within the control of the City."
Shafer served the suit on the city about a year ago, and officially filed it with the courts last Thursday. Minnesota law requires defendants to issue an "answer" within 20 days of being sued, whether the suit is served or filed. The city attorney's office initially refused a Star Tribune request made last Friday morning for a copy of its answer, saying that it was unavailable because it had not yet been filed with the courts.
The document, which is public data regardless of its filing status with the courts, was released Monday afternoon. When suits are served on the city instead of filed in court, answers are typically served in return, their existence untracked in the public domain. The city attorney's reluctance to divulge its response to lawsuits isn't new.
The city initially refused to disclose its answer to a wrongful death suit served in late 2014 but filed with the courts in early 2015 in the death of 101-year-old Roza Sakhina, who was killed when St. Paul police officer Lori Goulet backed into her with an SUV squad.
In the Sakhina case, the city also said its answer could not be publicly released because it had not yet been filed in court. In that response, which was eventually disclosed, the city also blamed Sakhina, writing in its answer that "...Plaintiff's alleged injuries or damages were caused solely by reason of Roza Sakhina's own wrongdoing and/or misconduct, and not by reason of any alleged unlawful acts or omissions of these answering Defendants."
Sakhina's son sued the city and Goulet for damages in excess of $50,000, and reached a $62,500 settlement with the city late last year.
Shafer is alleging that she was in her backyard on July 7, 2013 when she was attacked unprovoked by Rebel, who refused to obey commands from his human partner, officer Matthew Yunker.
According to Shafer, her lawsuit and her attorney, Edward Risch: Shafer and some friends had just finished an evening of barbecuing at her Frogtown home when an alleged car thief crashed a vehicle nearby. Police were in pursuit. The suspect fled on foot.
Shafer said she walked to her back fence to observe the commotion when Rebel, who is not named in the suit, jumped up and bit her right hand. Shafer fled, but the dog apparently pushed through the gate and bit her left leg.
Shafer was able to break from the dog and ran into the back entryway of her home, where Rebel caught up and latched onto her left arm. Shafer said in a recent interview that Yunker, who is not named in the suit, had caught up by then, but Rebel ignored his commands to release three times. Yunker had to stick his thumbs in Rebel's mouth to pull the dog off, Shafer said.
The alleged car thief hadn't run by Shafer's home or through her yard, she said, making Rebel's attack even more shocking.
"There was no reason for that dog to be in my yard," Shafer said.
Shafer said she had 17 stitches in her three wounds, missed two months of work, incurred about $7,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses and has permanent scarring. She is suing the city for damages in excess of $50,000.
Risch said the city had extended a settlement offer that was not accepted.
"We feel it's not sufficient for the type of injury she sustained," Risch said.
Shafer's suit alleges that her injuries were a result of the city's "failure to properly restrain their dog, and as a result of other careless and negligent acts and omissions." The city denies those allegations.
The case is scheduled for mediation this week. Yunker and Rebel are currently assigned to the department's K-9 unit.