St. Paul OKs $2M to man wrongly bitten by police K-9

Screen grab from dash cam video
Screen grab from dash cam video that shows a confrontation between officers, a police dog and Frank Baker.
St. Paul Police

Updated: 8 p.m. | Posted: 4:21 p.m.

Lawyers for Frank Baker, a man badly injured by a St. Paul police dog last summer, say they've reached agreement on a $2 million payout, a settlement that would be the largest in the city's history.

Baker, who's African-American, was bitten by a police dog and kicked by an officer during a June 2016 arrest. He spent two weeks in the hospital after suffering severe wounds to his legs and feet with the K-9 tearing "hunks of flesh" and biting "down to the bone," according to his attorney.

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Frank Baker, 53, has reached a tentative settlement with St. Paul.
Frank Baker, 53, in the offices of his attorney on Monday after reaching a tentative settlement with the city of St. Paul over an encounter with a police dog in June.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The June 24 incident began as officers arrived on scene following a report of a large fight on East 7th Street in St. Paul just after 10 p.m. The caller reported seeing a black man with dreadlocks and a white T-shirt carrying a gun.

Officer Brian Ficcadenti arrived, didn't find a fight but spotted a man, later identified as Baker, in a nearby SUV fitting that suspect description. Ficcadenti ordered him out and told him to raise his hands. Ficcadenti said Baker did not comply, and he let loose his police dog who brought him down.

Another officer, Brett Palkowitsch joined in at some point and reported kicking the man on the ground.

Baker suffered a collapsed lung from the kicks and permanent disfigurement of his legs where the dog bit him. Police didn't find a gun on Baker or in his car. It wasn't clear that he had any connection whatsoever to the initial incident.

Ficcadenti got a 30-day suspension and was transferred out of the K-9 unit. Palkowitsch is on unpaid leave and was initially described as "under investigation." Palkowitsch, though, hasn't completely run through the department's disciplinary appeals process, which could eventually result in his complete termination.

This incident happened within hours of Todd Axtell's swearing in as the city's new police chief. While it took until November to come to light, Axtell took the unusual step of calling a press conference and publicly apologizing for what happened and releasing video of the incident.

Baker's lawyer initially sought at least $5 million in damages as part of a federal lawsuit for violating his constitutional and civil rights.

St. Paul city attorney Samuel Clark said Baker's lawsuit made the city vulnerable to significant financial damages.

Wounds to Frank Baker's legs after K-9 attack.
Baker spent weeks in the hospital after suffering what a police report called "severe lacerations," to his legs and feet, according to his attorney.
Courtesy Andrew Noel

"Our previous biggest settlement for a case involving excessive force is $400,000. We immediately recognized that we'd probably be talking about dollar figures that were bigger than any other excessive force case in the city's history," Clark said.

The $2 million settlement is an agreement in principle right now, and is still subject to some formal approvals by the city. It must still be approved by the St. Paul City Council.

Baker's lawyer, though, said the payout would resolve all of Baker's claims against the city and the police.

In an interview Monday, Baker said he thought it was fair compensation for the injuries he's likely to suffer from for the rest of his life and that he hopes it sends a message to police about dogs and the use of force.

"Anybody that's normal can see that wasn't right," he said. "And listen to me, if you let a dog out on somebody, and you got them already, why did it take that long for you to let that dog bite me like that? And you let the policeman kick me?"