St. Paul police’s use of K-9s was dramatically restricted after an innocent bystander was attacked by a loose dog last week.
Mayor Melvin Carter and police Chief Todd Axtell issued a joint statement Monday after news broke that a man was attacked by a police dog on the city’s East Side, the latest in a string of controversial dog bites. Police also released graphic body camera footage of the incident that showed the dog ignoring more than a dozen orders to stop the attack as the victim, Glenn L. Slaughter, writhed on the ground and cried out in pain.
“Last week’s incident involving a St. Paul police canine is very disturbing, especially viewed in the context of other events that have occurred over the past two years,” Carter said.
Slaughter, 33, was leaving for work on July 6 when he was bitten after the dog’s collar “snapped,” said Anne Shomshor, who is engaged to Slaughter’s brother. Slaughter could not be reached for comment.
“Any one person could have been walking out of their house at any given time, and if [police] don’t have control of the situations or of their dogs, it’s truly worrisome,” she said.
The chaotic, approximately minute-long footage released by police shows officer Mark Ross getting out of his squad with K-9 Suttree, who can be heard shaking before suddenly breaking free of its “prong collar.” Suttree runs to Slaughter, who is lying on the street next to his car after being ordered to the ground by police.
“No!” and “Out!” Ross yells several times.
“No, no, no, no, don’t!” Slaughter cries out as he is attacked. “Oh [expletive]!”
When Suttree ignores Ross, the officer turns his attention to Slaughter, ordering him to stop moving. At least one other officer at the scene, sounding frustrated and tense, also gives Slaughter the same order.
“Stop pulling, sir,” Ross says as Slaughter’s legs kick out. “Sir, stop pulling.”
Ross, breathing heavily, eventually pulls Suttree free from the attack police said lasted about 20 seconds.
Suttree was retired from the K-9 unit and Ross was reassigned after the attack. Ross was hired by St. Paul in 2001 and has no disciplinary action on his record.
A Star Tribune review of six years’ worth of St. Paul police dog bite reports showed that officers lost control of their K-9s on occasion, dogs regularly apprehended people with no instruction from handlers and that some bystanders were attacked while officers were following common practices.
City officials said that starting Monday, police dogs will only be deployed when officers or citizens face “a clear and immediate danger.” The restrictions will increase oversight of the unit and “refine the role of canine officers,” said the joint statement.
The police department also announced that it would hire an outside expert to audit its K-9 unit, hopefully within the month, and that “significant changes” were coming.
“Our goal is to determine what is working, what we can improve and how we minimize risk to the people we serve as well as officers,” said Axtell.
The department enacted several changes Monday: A full-time commander was assigned to the K-9 unit, handlers’ control of their dogs and the dogs’ recall and release skills will be tested twice a month indefinitely, K-9 teams that don’t meet training standards will be removed from patrol, handlers will have to inspect all equipment on camera before their shifts, and dogs will be worked on shorter leashes.
Slaughter was bitten outside the home he shares with his brother, their mother and Shomshor and her 4-year-old son in the 900 block of 4th Street E.
At the time, police were looking for a man who was walking in the street and allegedly pointing a gun at homes in the area. Police spokesman Steve Linders said that Slaughter was not considered a suspect, but Shomshor, who is white, said she felt that the Slaughter brothers were treated differently because both are black.
The armed suspect was described as a black male.
Linders said that Suttree got loose shortly before 2 a.m. Friday after the dog’s prong collar, which was attached to a leash, fell off.
Ross tried to recall Suttree, but the dog had already reached Slaughter, Linders said. Ross then gave the dog a verbal order to release its bite, which dogs must obey to be certified by the country’s largest organization for police dog handlers. Suttree ignored the command.
Ross grabbed another collar Suttree was wearing and activated an electric shock to remove the dog from Slaughter, Linders said.
Ross filed an “animal bite” police report that said he responded to the area at 1:41 a.m. for a “weapons call.” The two-sentence public version of the report contained no information about the bite or Slaughter’s injuries.
According to Shomshor: Slaughter was leaving for his overnight job at Ikea when he encountered police outside.
Officers ordered Slaughter to put his hands up and then ordered him to the ground. Slaughter obeyed, Shomshor said, but then Suttree got loose.
“The story we were given by the officer [Ross] is that … the collar supposedly snapped and the K-9 is trained to do one thing, and that’s bite,” she said. “So, the dog went after Glenn and bit him twice.”
Shomshor said Slaughter suffered puncture wounds to his right forearm and a 4-inch gash on his right abdomen.
“[Slaughter] was asked to lie on the ground for his own safety…” Linders said.
Slaughter was treated at Regions Hospital and released, but has not returned to work because the injuries make it difficult for him to lift heavy objects, Shomshor said. He also lost sensation in and use of his thumb, which is slowly improving.
“It could’ve been anybody and it could’ve been someone with a gun,” Shomshor said, “but I just feel that you have to know that you have the right person in question before you just the let the dog go.”