Moments after the police dog disappeared behind the dumpster, a scream pierced the air.
But at first, St. Paul, Minn. police couldn’t see who the cry was coming from. Police had been pursuing two male burglary suspects in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, and their dog, Gabe, had been walking ahead of them on a 20-foot leash, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Once police made it around the dumpster to see who the dog had attacked, they realized that it wasn’t one of the burglary suspects screaming out for help — it was an innocent woman, and she had no warning the attack was coming, the lawsuit says.
“Oh, there’s a lady,” one officer can be heard saying to another on bodycam footage of the incident that police have released.
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Desiree Collins, 52, had been taking out the garbage that morning around 6:30 a.m., she says, just as the sun was rising.
Then, without warning, the dog attacked, video shows.
On Wednesday, Collins filed a lawsuit in federal court saying that Thaddeus Schmidt, the St. Paul police officer who was handling the dog, lost control of the K-9 during the attack.
The lawsuit also says that as Collins lay on the ground suffering, Schmidt and another officer told the dog to release her more than 10 times.
“What you have here is a completely innocent person taking out their garbage … and a K-9 simply wasn’t controlled,” Andrew Noel, an attorney for Collins, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “It should never have happened.”
The attack knocked Collins right out of her shoes, the lawsuit says. The dog bit into her leg, then clamped onto her arm around the elbow, video shows.
As Collins screams in the video, police can be seen trying to get the dog to release the woman. But for moment after excruciating moment, Collins continues to scream and writhe on the ground, as one officer pulls at her left arm and the canine remains latched to her right, video shows.
Finally, the dog releases Collins after about 30 seconds, and officers are able to pull her up, video shows.
“What did I do?” Collins, visibly shaken, can be heard asking police.
“Nothing,” one officer said.
“Wrong place at the wrong time,” another officer responded.
Collins had to be hospitalized after the attack to treat multiple bites to her right arm and left leg, according to the lawsuit. She was unable to change the dressings on her wounds herself, because Collins’ left hand had to be amputated as a child.
Right after the attack, St. Paul police helped Collins get groceries and change the dressings on the injuries, the lawsuit says, but police stopped helping her when they found out she had retained legal counsel.
Noel and Bob Bennett, the attorneys representing Collins, argue in the lawsuit that police officers didn’t give proper warnings about the canine’s presence to those in the vicinity.
“What happened to Ms. Collins was a terrible accident that should not have occurred,” Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a statement to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I am sorry it happened and that she was injured.”
Axtell admitted to the Pioneer Press that the situation should have been handled better.
“As a department, we wish we could go back and do things differently,” Axtell said, according to the Pioneer Press. “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.”
Axtell reprimanded Schmidt in October, after the incident, for his handling of the incident, the Pioneer Press reports.
In particular, Axtell said that the dog should not have been allowed to go around a blind corner.
“Your actions and failure to adequately control your canine partner will not be tolerated,” Axtell wrote to Schmidt, the Pioneer Press reports. “Failure to follow department policy and training standards provided by the canine unit will result in further discipline, up to and including termination.”
Schmidt was suspended for a day for the incident, according to personnel records reviewed by the Star-Tribune.
Collins has suffered both physical and psychological injuries from the dog attack, the lawsuit says.
The suit also says that Collins’ civil rights — in particular, to be free from excessive force and unreasonable seizure — were violated by Schmidt’s actions.
Collins’ lawsuit seeks punitive damages, though a dollar amount is not mentioned. The lawsuit also requests improvements to the city’s K-9 training program.