Once-fired St. Paul cop allowed back on force; seen on video kicking man during arrest

Police Sgt. Mike Ernster in front of squad car video.
Police Sgt. Mike Ernster is silhouetted as a video of Frank Baker's arrest is played before St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell addressed the media during a news conference on Nov. 4, 2016.
Jim Mone | AP file

Brett Palkowitsch, the St. Paul cop fired for a controversial arrest in which a man was badly injured, has been reinstated with the city's police force.

The firing was reduced to a 30-day unpaid suspension, according to an arbitration decision released Wednesday. Palkowitsch is also eligible to claim back pay. He was terminated in November.

On June 24, 2016, officers responded to an emergency call of a fight. They wrongly identified Baker as an armed suspect while he was sitting in his car.

That night, another officer ordered Baker out of his car, and he complied. But the officer said Baker hesitated and didn't raise his hands, so he released his K-9. As the dog was biting "down to the bone," as Baker's attorney said, officer Palkowitsch kicked him multiple times.

Frank Baker, who was attacked by K-9 and kicked by police.
Frank Baker
Courtesy Andrew Noel

Baker spent two weeks in the hospital and was cited for misdemeanor obstructing the legal process.

Wounds to Frank Baker's legs after K-9 attack.
Wounds to Baker's legs after K-9 attack.
Courtesy Andrew Noel

The incident happened as Todd Axtell started his job as St. Paul's police chief in June. The internal affairs investigation was completed in October, according to the arbitration document. Axtell terminated Palkowitsch the following month.

In a letter to his department released Wednesday, Axtell said he's disappointed Palkowitsch used excessive force and seriously hurt Baker.

"The arbitrator agrees with my assessment that excessive force was used, and I stand by my decision to hold everyone in our department to the highest possible standards," Axtell said in a statement.

In the arbitration documents, the city said Palkowitsch's force was never authorized by the police department.

Palkowitsch's "refusal to accept any responsibility or even consider that he could have done anything differently in this incident makes him dangerous and untrainable," reads the city's statement in arbitration documents.

Baker, who is African-American, sued the city and multiple police officers alleging his constitutional and civil rights were violated. The suit initially sought at least $5 million in damages, but last month the city reached a $2 million settlement. The St. Paul City Council approved the settlement Wednesday.

The police union said in arbitration documents that Palkowitsch has been a "very effective " officer and should have another chance to work.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.