A Minnesota woman filed a federal lawsuit against the St. Paul Police Department and one of its officers after a K-9 police dog “mistakenly” bit her.
Desiree Collins was taking out her trash behind her home on Van Buren Avenue as usual, but her daily chore suddenly turned into a nightmare when a K-9 dog leapt at her out of nowhere.
The police were responding to a call about a burglary in process about three blocks away where two men had reportedly kicked in a door and entered a home. Officer Thaddeus Schmidt, who was one of the first responders, was walking nearby with his K-9 on a long leash, when the dog suddenly attacked Collins, bit her lower left leg and clamped onto her right arm.
The officers tried to pull the 52-year-old woman away from the dog, but the action only caused the K-9 to clamp down harder, as per its training.
The sudden attack knocked Collins out of her shoes as the dog dragged her to the ground. The ordeal lasted about 30 minutes, during which the poor woman screamed and begged for help.
Officers issued at least 10 “release” commands to the dog and Schmidt also tried to use the dog’s E-collar, an electronic shock device, to make it loosen its hold but it only let go when officers forcibly dragged it away.
“What did I do?” Collins said after the dog’s jaws were pried off her.
“Nothing,” said one.
“Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, ma’am,” said another.
Schmidt had the dog on a 20-foot leash.
Collins’ wounds on her arm required dressing but as her hand was amputated because of a childhood injury, it was difficult for her to do so. Officers initially helped her with the task but when they found out she was represented by counsel, that all stopped.
Collins soon filed a lawsuit against the police department and Schmidt. Her lawyer Andrew Noel said the suit is in part to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
“The bottom line is this was a situation that could have been avoided if the dog was kept on a shorter leash and proper warnings were given,” Noel said.
“Part of the reason for the lawsuit is she says, ‘If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,’” he added. “She wants St. Paul to make the appropriate changes to makes sure it doesn’t happen again.”
In addition to monetary damages, the lawsuit also demands the force retrain its K-9 dogs.
Schmidt was given a one-day suspension for keeping the dog on too long a leash and not yelling out warnings to passersby.
Police Chief Todd Axtell released a statement saying his “heart breaks” for the woman.
“What happened to Ms. Collins was a terrible accident that should not have occurred,” he said. “I am sorry it happened and that she was injured. As a department, we wish we could go back and do things differently. Unfortunately, we can’t. What we can do is apologize and take responsibility, offer support and compassion and learn from the incident so we can continue to work to prevent it from happening to anyone else.”
This isn’t the first time Schmidt was unable to control his dog.
His K-9 bit another person in August 2016 and he got “supervisory counseling on ‘leash handling and K-9 control at that time,’” said to the lawsuit.
Besides this, Schmidt received two reprimands for preventable squad crashes in 1999 and a reprimand for leaving a vehicle alone, which had to be towed in 2002. He was also suspended for two days in 2006 after he crashed his car while off duty in 2006 as a result of drunken driving.
Considering his past mishaps, the one-day suspension for Schmidt seems a bit too lenient.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS, Kevin Lamarque