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On the evening of June 24, 2016 Frank Baker’s life changed. At around 10:00 p.m., Frank, a 52-year- old longtime citizen of St. Paul, was driving home after work. He parked his Jeep near his home and sat there alone talking on his cell phone. Officer Brian Ficcadenti, who had been sent to the area to investigate a reported fight, arrived. Instead of a fight, Ficcadenti saw Baker whom he claimed matched the description of one of the suspected fighters because he was “a black male with dreadlocks wearing a white t-shirt.”
Immediately after parking his squad car near Frank’s Jeep, Ficcadenti let his K-9 partner, Falco – a large German Shepard, out of his squad car, and then ordered Frank out of the Jeep. Frank complied. Nonetheless, Ficcadenti unleashed Falco on Frank and the dog viciously attacked Frank from behind, tearing into the flesh, muscles and tissues of his leg. While Falco dragged Frank around on the ground and continued to maul him, four more St. Paul police officers arrived. One of them was Brett Palkowitsch. While Frank was lying on the ground, Palkowitsch viciously delivered three kicks to Frank’s ribs as Falco continued to tear into Frank’s leg. The kicks broke a number of Frank’s ribs and collapsed both of his lungs. The three other officers stood by. They did not intervene to stop either Palkowitsch or Falco from brutalizing Frank.
The horrifying incident was captured on video and can be downloaded here.
Frank was hospitalized for 14 days, had numerous surgical procedures and is left with life changing injuries to his lower right leg. Frank’s contouring deficits and physical scarring are pictured below. The psychological scarring is Frank’s constant companion.
St. Paul Chief of Police Todd Axtell visited Frank in the hospital. Frank, hoping that Axtell would conduct a proper investigation, did not go public with his injuries. Frank did not want to incite riots, protests or violence. He did not want anyone else hurt.
Chief Axtell apologized to Frank on behalf of the City of St. Paul and held a press conference at which he publicly denounced the actions of the two officers. Chief Axtell disciplined Ficcadenti for his conduct, noting Ficcadenti violated seven departmental policies including using excessive force. Further information on the policy violations and the disciplinary actions taken are depicted in the Settlement Letter. It has been reported that Palkowitsch is no longer with the Police Department.
These first steps taken by Chief Axtell show an intention to do what is right and to hold those responsible accountable. These transparent actions were appreciated by Frank and by those watching across the nation. Additional changes are still needed to ensure that something like this never happens again. In particular, we hope to see the St. Paul Police Department implement training and policy modifications regarding: 1) choking off K-9 bites; and 2) requiring police officer intervention when they witness the excessive use of force.
Bob Bennett is a trial lawyer and partner at the firm of Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp, LLP, who for many years has aggressively and successfully represented people in civil rights and police misconduct cases throughout the United States.