A federal jury Tuesday found St. Paul police officer Brett Palkowitsch guilty of repeatedly kicking an innocent bystander in the chest, causing serious injuries while a K-9 mauled the man’s leg.
Palkowitsch, 32, was indicted in January on one count of deprivation of rights in connection with the 2016 incident, which left Frank Baker, an unarmed 52-year-old black man, with seven broken ribs and collapsed lungs.
Palkowitsch will go free pending sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.
Authorities were looking for an armed suspect when they encountered Baker. Neither side disputed that Palkowitsch kicked Baker, and neither argued that Baker was the armed suspect police were looking for. Rather, the judge instructed the jury to consider whether he used “more force than a reasonable officer would use under the circumstances.”
In closing arguments Monday, prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice portrayed Palkowitsch as a “bully” who willfully defied academy training and seemed to take pleasure in kicking an innocent man already being ravaged by a dog. They say Palkowitsch later bragged about putting Baker in the hospital and tried to cover it up by falsely saying in his police report that Baker had a firearm and fought the officers.
Squad car video captured St. Paul police officers swarming Baker, who appeared to match a description of an armed suspect. Baker sustained serious injuries from K-9 bites and kicks to the abdomen.
Kevin Short, attorney for Palkowitsch, said his client arrived on what appeared to be a dangerous scene and acted clearly and reasonably when he kicked Baker, who he believed had a gun.
The Department of Justice said in a statement Tuesday night that officers who violate the trust placed in them should be held accountable, which happened in this case.
The city settled a lawsuit with Baker for $2 million. Palkowitsch has been on paid administrative leave. Chief Todd Axtell fired Palkowitsch for going beyond the discipline recommended by a civilian review board but by law had to rehire him after an arbitrator ruled in 2017 that Palkowitsch should get his job back.