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Ex-officer who beat Black man while dog mauled him gets six years in prison

St. Paul police officers respond to a report of a man with a gun on June 24, 2016, and detain Frank Baker outside his apartment in St. Paul, (St. Paul Police Department)

A federal court judge on Friday sentenced a former St. Paul, Minn., police officer to six years in prison after a jury found him guilty of a civil rights violation for beating an unarmed Black man who was mistaken for a suspect nearly five years ago.

A federal jury in 2019 convicted former St. Paul officer Brett Palkowitsch of using excessive force against an unarmed civilian after he brutally kicked and severely injured Frank Amal Baker and let a police dog maul him.

In June 2016, Palkowitsch and other police officers responded to a call about a large street fight in St. Paul, where dispatchers said an “unidentified black male with dreadlocks and a white t-shirt” was seen carrying a gun.

After arriving at the scene, Palkowitsch and another officer found no evidence of a street fight but noticed a man who they said matched the suspect’s description, sitting in his car talking on a cellphone. One of the officers told Baker to get out of the car, as the police dog barked loudly at him, according to a criminal complaint.

Seconds later, the officer released the dog, which knocked Baker to the ground and started mauling his leg. While Baker was on the ground screaming in pain, Palkowitsch kicked Baker in the torso continuously, breaking seven ribs and causing his lungs to collapse, according to a Department of Justice statement.

According to court records, Palkowitsch testified he “firmly believed” the person on the ground matching the description was in fact the person who was seen with a weapon and that he had “acted under the assumption” that the person being bitten by the dog had a weapon on him.

The police found no gun at the scene and no evidence that Baker, a 52-year-old grandfather who lived in the neighborhood, had been involved in any fight, the statement said.

In a court hearing Friday, the former officer waived the right to appeal his conviction and offered a tearful apology for his actions to Baker and to other members of the St. Paul Police Department, several of whom testified against Palkowitsch during the 2019 trial.

“I hope that today gives you a little bit of closure, but I know for the rest of your life it’s something you’re going to have to deal with. For the rest of my life, it’s something that I’m going to have to live with as well. But from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry,” Palkowitsch said, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

Information about Palkowitsch’s attorney’s was not available Saturday.

District Judge Wilhelmina Wright said at the hearing Friday that Palkowitsch had “flagrantly abused” his authority, the statement added.

“Law enforcement officers take an oath to serve and protect the public,” an FBI agent from the Minneapolis Field Office said in the statement. “When an officer betrays that oath and violates a person’s civil rights, that officer must be held accountable. Our community, and our profession, deserve no less.”

According to authorities, two veteran officers who were at the scene and witnessed Palkowitsch’s actions reported him to their supervisor and later testified against him at trial.

Baker, a concert promoter, told Minnesota Public Radio that he accepted the former officer’s apology but said he didn’t feel it was sincere. He added that since the incident, he has struggled with long-lasting health problems, including difficulty breathing.

“He made my life a living hell,” Baker said.

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