Jury gets the case in federal trial of St. Paul cop charged with excessive force

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 Nov. 15, 2019 in St. Paul. Palkowitsch is charged with violating the civil rights of Frank Baker. On June 24, 2016, Palkowitsch repeatedly kicked Baker while Baker was being bitten by a police dog.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Jurors are deliberating in the federal criminal trial of St. Paul police officer Brett Palkowitsch. He's charged with violating the civil rights of Frank Baker in 2016, when the officer kicked Baker as he was being bitten by a police dog.

In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Perras said Palkowitsch kicked Baker three times in the ribs, breaking seven of them, puncturing his lungs and then bragged about it to his fellow officers. Perras said those are not the actions of an officer acting in good faith.

"Those are the actions of a bully," said Perras.

During his 45-minute closing argument, Perras said Palkowitsch figured no other officer would call him out on his use of force. "But the code of silence didn't prevent you from hearing the truth in this case," Perras told the jury, referring to two veteran officers who reluctantly spoke out against Palkowitsch, knowing they faced retaliation.

Frank Baker, 53, has reached a tentative settlement with St. Paul.
Frank Baker, 53, in the offices of his attorney in 2017.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Perras also told jurors that three of the six officers on the scene did not see Baker as a threat. He described Baker, then 52, as 145 pounds "soaking wet" who was being mauled by a 120 pound K-9.

Perras also said while Baker cried out in pain, he never once threatened the officers. Palkowitsch testified in the trial that he thought Baker had a gun; Baker was unarmed.

Yet defense attorney Kevin Short accused prosecutors of lying to jurors in their case.

In his closing argument, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, Short said prosecutor's biggest "lie" was that Palkowitsch was the only officer who perceived Baker to be a threat.

Short said squad car video of the incident, when slowed down to half speed, shows that other officers reacted to Baker's movements. He said as Baker appeared to sit up, three officers immediately moved toward Baker. He said that is proof that at the time, they treated Baker as a threat — even though officers Anthony Spencer, Joseph Dick and Brian Ficcadenti later testified that they didn't consider him one.

Short also said if Palkowitsch wanted to willfully deprive Baker of his civil rights, he wouldn't have waited 39 seconds upon arriving on the scene to use force. He would have just started kicking. But Short said the video clearly shows Palkowitsch assessing the situation before making a decision.

Finally, Short said K-9 handler Brian Ficcadenti is to blame for most of what happened on that night. And he accused Ficcadenti of perjuring himself because he didn't criticize Palkowitsch’s use of force until after he got a deal giving him immunity from prosecution in exchange for cooperating with the investigation and agreed to testify against Palkowitsch.

Jurors began deliberating late Monday afternoon.

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