A Minnesota police dog was on the hunt, snout to the street, searching for traces of possible burglary suspects early on a September morning. A 20-foot leash tethered the German shepherd to an officer from the St. Paul Police Department.
The two suspects were fleeing on foot, and Gabe, a 5½-year-old dog with the police K-9 unit, had been brought in to help law enforcement respond to a possible burglary in a neighborhood just west of downtown St. Paul.
But when the K-9 darted past a garbage dumpster, screams suddenly filled the air.
“Oh, there’s a lady,” one of the police officers shouted, according to footage from an officer’s body cam.
The dog’s jaws were clamped around the right arm of Desiree Collins, a 52-year-old woman who happened to be taking out her garbage when the K-9 attacked. The animal hauled Collins to the ground, where she screamed and squirmed to break free as the dog refused to give.
“You’re fine, you’re fine,” one of the officers tried to tell Collins over her pained shouts.
“Please,” Collins said, eyes hitched wide in pain. “Help me!”
After about 30 seconds, Gabe released Collins and the officers helped her up. “What did I do to him?” she asked.
“Nothing,” an officer consolingly answered. “Just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
But according to lawyers for Collins, the Sept. 23 K-9 attack was no simple accident but the fault of the dog’s officer, Thaddeus Schmidt.
“What you have here is a completely innocent person taking out their garbage … and a K-9 simply wasn’t controlled,” Andrew Noel, Collins’s attorney, told the Star Tribune this week. “It should never have happened.”
Following the incident, Schmidt was suspended for a day for keeping Gabe on a long leash, allowing the dog to get out of sight, the Star Tribune reported.
On Wednesday, Collins filed a federal lawsuit against Schmidt in his official capacity as a St. Paul police officer. The complaint seeks unspecified damages for Collins’s injuries from her run-in with the police dog.
St. Paul police had apologized to Collins while she was being treated for her injuries at a hospital, the Pioneer Press reported. Police Chief Todd Axtell apologized again Thursday.
“What happened to Ms. Collins was a terrible accident that should not have occurred,” the chief wrote in a statement. “I am sorry it happened and that she was injured. As a department, we wish we could go back and do things differently. Unfortunately, we can’t. What we can do is apologize and take responsibility.”
This is not the first time the police department has ended up in court over a K-9 attack.
Last March, St. Paul police agreed to a $2 million settlement with a man kicked by police and bitten by a K-9 dog in June 2016. In March 2016, the city paid out $200,000 to a woman bitten by a K-9 dog that charged her in her back yard and bit her on the arm.
The lawsuit filed by Collins says that before latching on to her right arm, the police dog bit her left leg, causing multiple injuries. The injuries were particularly difficult for Collins, the lawsuit said, whose left hand had been previously amputated due to burns sustained as a child. The dog injured her good arm, meaning it was hard for Collins to change her bandages.
In Collins’s lawsuit, which alleges her Fourth Amendment rights were violated in the attack, she charges that the officer “should have been aware of this and also the specific danger to innocent people caused by the use of the long lead since he had his K-9 bite another innocent person in August 2016 for which he received supervisory counseling.”
Police told Fox 9 that after the incident, Schmidt and the K-9 were sent to training for a month. They are still on duty with the police department.
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