Chief Axtell testifies for prosecution in excessive force trial of St. Paul officer

A man is flanked by two women as they walk in a skyway.
St. Paul police officer Brett Palkowitsch leaves the Warren E. Burger Federal Court Building on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019 in St. Paul. Palkowitsch is charged with violating the civil rights of Frank Baker.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell testified Friday in the federal trial of officer Brett Palkowitsch, charged with excessive force for kicking a man while he was being bitten by a police dog in 2016.

Frank Baker was unarmed and seriously injured during the incident.

Axtell, a prosecution witness, said he met with Palkowitsch in November 2016, after the department had completed an investigation into the incident involving Baker. Axtell said he expected to hear "ownership and remorse" from Palkowitsch about what he'd done. But Axtell said Palkowitsch showed no compassion, nor did he apologize.

Defense attorney Kevin Short asked Axtell if Palkowitsch was advised by his counsel not to apologize because the matter was in dispute. Axtell said he didn't recall.

The St. Paul chief said he met with Palkowitsch alone six months later, after an arbitrator gave the officer his job back. This time, Axtell said Palkowitsch acted more like he would have expected in the November 2016 meeting.

The chief was asked to comment on Palkowitsch's police report. In that report, Palkowitsch was given the option on an electronic form to select a description of any weapons used by the suspect. Palkowitsch’s form had the firearm option checked and below that “hands/feet/fists” as other weapons used by Baker.

Palkowitsch said he knows Baker wasn't armed and that he didn't fight back, but said the form limited his options. The K9 officer on the scene left that section of the form blank.

Axtell said officers are trained that if the suspect doesn’t have a weapon, they shouldn't select that option.

The defense rested its case Friday, concluding with a use of force expert, Mark Bruley, deputy police chief of Brooklyn Park. Bruley was barred from giving an opinion on whether Palkowitsch's use of force was justified.

Instead, Bruley went through the video of the incident and slowed it down to half speed. He pointed out that it appeared to him that Baker was able to follow commands at least part of the time and would momentarily comply. And Bruley also said just because Baker was in pain didn't necessarily mean that he couldn't understand what was being told to him by the officers.

Prosecutors expect to have at least one more witness next week, and the case could go to the jury late Monday or early Tuesday.

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