Ex-St. Paul cop gets 6 years in prison for excessive force in K-9 confrontation

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 in St. Paul.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2019

Updated: 3:45 p.m.

A federal court judge on Friday sentenced former St. Paul police officer Brett Palkowitsch to six years in prison for using excessive force during an arrest involving a police dog.

Palkowitsch had been found guilty of kicking and injuring Frank Baker and allowing a K-9 to maul Baker in 2016 after the man was mistaken for a robbery suspect. Baker later won a $2 million settlement from the city of St Paul.

Baker also suffered seven broken ribs and collapsed lungs in the attack.

Palkowitsch's sentence was expected to be between four and five years, but in court U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright rejected a sentencing agreement.

In court, the former officer offered an apology to Baker and to members of the St. Paul Police Department.

To move forward with his life, Baker said he forgave Palkowitsch long ago. But Baker also said the courtroom apology was not sincere.

“His family and friends, his mother, his wife, his kids, got to see that he has a dark side to him. He made my life a living hell.”

A man shows his injury to his leg.
Friday morning, Frank Baker shows an injury he sustained after being mistaken for a robbery suspect while at the Warren E. Burger Federal Building in St. Paul.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Baker, a concert promoter, had arrived home on the night of June 24, 2016. It was muggy in St. Paul that day, so Baker took off his dress shirt and stayed in his vehicle to make a phone call.

Around the same time, someone called the police to report a possible fight on the city’s east side.

The dispatcher told officers over the radio that the suspect was a Black man with dreadlocks and a white T-shirt. Baker had no connection to the purported fight or any crime at all. But police apparently thought he fit the description.

“When the officer said ‘get out of the car and put your hands up,’ I put my hands up,” Baker recalled. “I didn’t even have time to take two steps. He let the dog out. I’m looking like it’s in slow motion. No you didn’t!”

Baker complied with officers’ commands, but as the police dog mauled his leg, then-officer Palkowitsch kicked Baker as he lay in agony on the ground. In addition to severe injuries to his leg, which required skin grafts to repair, Baker suffered collapsed lungs and seven broken ribs.

After today’s sentencing hearing, Baker, 57, said he has to take 18 pills a day and continues to suffer health problems. Though unable to play baseball with his children and grandchild, Baker says he’s grateful to be alive.

“They call me the Black superman. Because anybody who took a beating like that and still live. And I say no, no, no. It was God. He gave me a second chance. Because a lot of people, what law enforcement did to them, killed them. They can’t come back and tell their story.”

Baker says he wants to speak out on behalf of people hurt and killed by law enforcement. But he says it’s a profession he still respects. He says as a teenager, he wanted to be a detective. 

“One thing I want people to know is that I love the law. I really do. You get more good policemen than bad policemen,” Baker said.

In court, Palkowitsch stood at the lectern, turned to Baker, and made a tearful apology. Audio recording was not allowed. But Palkowitsch said “I hope that today gives you a little bit of closure, but I know for the rest of your life it’s something you’re going to have to deal with. For the rest of my life, it’s something that I’m going to have to live with as well. But from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.”

Palkowitsch also apologized to his former colleagues, including St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, who was among several officers who testified against Palkowitsch during the 2019 trial.

Palkowitsch added that he’s willing to speak to police training classes to “make sure they know right from wrong.”

After the attack, Axtell fired Palkowitsch, but the St. Paul Police Federation challenged the termination, and an arbitrator reinstated him. Palkowitch was fired again after the jury rendered its guilty verdict just before Thanksgiving in 2019.

The sentencing was delayed due to pandemic restrictions in the federal courts and because Palkowitsch did not consent to a video hearing.

Palkowitsch waived his right to appeal the verdict. But because the prison term Judge Wright gave him is longer than what the sentencing agreement between prosecutors and the defense called for, Palkowitsch has the right to appeal the sentence. His attorney Deborah Ellis said she plans to do just that.

Judge Wright ordered Palkowitsch to report to federal prison on June 21. 

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