A St. Paul police K-9 attacked an unsuspecting woman, knocked her out of her shoes and dragged her to the ground causing bites that required hospitalization, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
St. Paul police officer Thaddeus P. Schmidt lost control of his K-9, Gabe, who repeatedly ignored more than 10 commands from Schmidt and another officer to release the woman, Desiree Collins, according to the suit filed Wednesday.
“What you have here is a completely innocent person taking out their garbage … and a K-9 simply wasn’t controlled,” said one of Collins’ attorneys, Andrew Noel. “It should never have happened.”
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said that the officers involved apologized to Collins at the time, and that the department also extends its apology.
“It’s important to note that Ms. Collins did nothing wrong,” Linders said. “Our officers didn’t know she was in the area during the search, and certainly didn’t intend for this to happen.”
The bite occurred while Schmidt and Gabe were searching for two males suspected in a home burglary in the 700 block of Minnehaha Avenue.
Collins, who was 52 at the time, was attacked about 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 23 by a dumpster in the 600 block of Van Buren Avenue.
Schmidt is the only defendant named in the suit, which alleges that he violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free of excessive force and unreasonable seizure.
Collins suffered a bite wound to her lower left leg and multiple bites to her right arm during the 30-second attack, according to the suit.
“She’s struggling emotionally with this incident,” said Noel, adding that Collins would not be speaking publicly on the matter.
Collins was treated at Regions Hospital for her injuries, and required a return visit and outpatient care; she could not change her own dressings because her left hand was amputated when she was a child. She also receives ongoing counseling.
According to the suit, which chronicled some events captured on police body cameras: multiple officers responded to the burglary call. Schmidt and Gabe, a 5-year-old German shepherd who joined the department in 2012, began searching for the suspects without any “visual target” or “definitive information” about the suspects’ whereabouts.
Schmidt placed Gabe on a 20-foot lead, and gave two verbal warnings to “Announce yourself. Come out now. You will get bit” while located close to his squad.
“No reasonable officer would have believed that a warning given at this location, sheltered by homes and trees, and at this time would have been effective to anyone outside his immediate vicinity, including people more than a block away on the opposite side of the residential area, like Collins,” the suit said.
Schmidt and Gabe traveled through backyards, jumped fences and into alleys without providing additional verbal warning of the K-9’s presence.
Gabe then “pulled” Schmidt for seven minutes as two “cover officers” followed, the suit said.
Gabe’s long lead “greatly reduced” Schmidt’s control of the dog, who walked around a dumpster out of Schmidt’s view and attacked Collins.
One of cover officers “calmly stated, ‘Oh, there’s a lady,’ ” the suit said.
Gabe bit Collins in the leg and then “viciously” clamped onto her right arm. The two cover officers tried and failed to pry Collins free, according to the suit.
“…per Gabe’s training, their actions only caused Gabe to exert more bite pressure and pull her arm harder in his direction on the bite,” the suit said.
Gabe ignored orders to release Collins, and Schmidt’s attempts to stop the attack using an electronic shock collar also failed.
Schmidt physically removed Gabe from Collins using a “hard out,” or, “choke off the bite” maneuver.
According to the suit, Schmidt was involved in a similar incident in 2016 when a dog he was handling on a long lead bit an innocent person. The officer received “supervisory counseling” on leash handling. It’s unclear if the incident involved Gabe or a different dog.
Schmidt’s job assignment was not immediately available late Wednesday evening.
Collins is suing for unspecified punitive damages and changes in training, policies and procedures in St. Paul’s use of K-9s.
Noel and attorney Bob Bennett represented Frank Baker in a similar suit involving a St. Paul K-9 bite in 2016 that resulted in a $2 million settlement.
Linders said the department is reviewing the Collins case to determine “how we can do better in the future.” He declined to say whether police K-9s should be deployed on 20-foot leads.
“We respond to more than 250,000 calls for service a year,” Linders said, “and unfortunately, they don’t all go perfectly.”
Linders said police K-9s have been involved in 22 apprehensions this year where someone was bitten.
“We take responsibility for this,” he said of Collins’ case. “This was an unfortunate mistake that happened. We don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708