ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - The St. Paul Police Department released video Friday afternoon of an incident in which a man was kicked by a police officer and bitten by a K-9 in a case of mistaken identity. The release of the video comes with a public apology from St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, and discipline for two of the officers involved in the incident.
“As St. Paul’s police chief, I’m disappointed and upset by what the video shows. As a person who deeply cares about this community and our department, I’m profoundly saddened,” Chief Axtell said. “I am releasing this video today because it’s the right thing to do. Our community has a right to know what’s happening with their police department. For me, it’s about transparency. It’s about honoring the trust that our public has in its department, its officers and myself.”
According to St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Ernster, officers were called to 1871 E. 7th Street just after 10 p.m. on the evening of Friday, June 24 on a report of a large group of people fighting. Responding officers were also told that one of the people fighting had a gun.
There was no fight in progress when officers arrived on the scene, but they did find a man in an SUV who matched the description of the person with the gun. According to police reports, the description given to officers by the caller was a black male with dreadlocks and a white t-shirt.
The officer ordered the man out of the SUV and told him to put both hands in the air. The man got out of the SUV, but put only one hand in the air. The officer repeated his commands, but the man was slow to respond. At that point, the officer released his K9, taking the man to the ground.
Backup officers arrived on the scene and told the man to keep his hands visible. Ernster said the man “could not, or would not” make his hands visible, at which point an officer kicked him in the ribs 3 times. After the man was kicked, he was handcuffed and the K9 was removed.
No gun was found on the man or in the surrounding area. The man was taken to Regions Hospital, where he was treated for 2 weeks.
“After this incident I met with the man who was injured in the video, while he was still in the hospital ” Chief Axtell said. “At that time, I assured and promised him that a full review was being conducted. In fact, I just met with him again today in my office and offered my deepest apologies on behalf of the entire St. Paul Police Department.”
When asked why he felt the need to personally apologize to the man, Axtell said: “Because he’s a human being, and I’m a human being. And it’s the right thing to do. And I believe in law enforcement we have to do a little bit more of that from time to time. When we don’t get things right, we have to own it, we have to be transparent, and we have to apologize.”
The man seen in the video, Frank Baker, said he feels the apology from Chief Todd Axtell is genuine. He met with Axtell in his office Friday, and later spoke with the media.
“He was telling me how sorry he was, for the police department and for the dog attack,” Baker said. “Basically he was real genuine in telling me he was sorry, and I told him, I said thank you.”
On the advice of his attorney, Baker did not say much about what happened on June 24, keeping his comments focused on the meeting with the chief.
“He understood what happened and he’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Baker said. "I believe him, I believe him.”
Attorney Robert Bennett said his client welcomes the actions the chief took to hold the officers accountable for the actions shown in the video.
“To some extent, there are revelations in the video that are interesting, “ Bennett said. “From a constitutional law perspective, they’re damning. I think you’re seeing obvious violations of the Fourth Amendment.”
Bennett said no decisions have been made about possible legal action against the City of St. Paul, but stressed Baker would seek some of restitution for his rights being violated.
Settlement agreement letter to Officer Ficcadenti
Fox 9 obtained a copy of the settlement agreement letter given to Officer Brian Ficcadenti by St. Paul Police Todd Axtell.
According to the letter, on Oct. 28, Axtell gave Officer Ficcadenti a notice of “intent to terminate.” But after a meeting with Ficcadenti, his attorney, the assistant city attorney, the police union president and a senior commander on the force, Axtell decided not to fire Ficcadenti. They agreed to suspend Ficcadenti for 30 days and remove him from the K-9 Unit. If he doesn’t follow the terms and conditions, Ficcadenti will face termination.
Throughout the letter, Axtell goes through the incident, detailing what Ficcadenti did and didn’t do. He called the officer’s actions and decisions “troubling” and “not consistent with training provided by Saint Paul Police Department, or specifically, the K-9 unit.”
According to the letter, Ficcadenti violated seven department policies, including officer response to resistance and aggression and individual dignity.
Employment status of officers
Brian Ficcadenti: Active employee assigned to family and sexual violence unit. Received 30-day suspension, effective Thursday, Nov. 3.
Brett Palkowitsch: Currently on unpaid leave, effective Thursday, Nov. 3, with an internal affairs investigation still open.
Anthony Spencer: On personal leave of absence beginning November. Was assigned to Eastern District.
Joe Dick: Active employee assigned to Eastern District.
Brian Nowicki: Active employee assigned to Eastern District.
John Raether: Active employee assigned to Eastern District.
Full statement from Chief Axtell
“As St. Paul’s police chief, I’m disappointed and upset by what the video shows. As a person who deeply cares about this community and our department, I’m profoundly saddened. I am releasing this video today because it’s the right thing to do. Our community has a right to know what’s happening with their police department. For me, it’s about transparency. It’s about honoring the trust that our public has in its department, its officers and myself.
“When I took this job I promised everything possible to ensure that the people we serve have faith in their police department. I want you to know that the content of this video does not reflect the way we strive to do our job day in and day out. This simply isn’t the St. Paul way.
“We do have great cops. They work hard to do the right thing every day in this city. I don’t want this incident to tarnish the great work that our public servants do every day throughout our city. I can say with certainty that this is the case, because out of the 250,000 calls for service that we have in the city of St. Paul, only 3/10 of one percent lead to uses of force. And the overwhelming majority of those cases are proven to be reasonable and necessary and done with respect.
“What is the St. Paul way is responding to these incidents with transparency, firmness and an unwavering commitment to doing what’s right. We are absolutely committed to being the best police department in this country. That’s why every use of force that occurs requires an automatic department review. These reviews are to ensure that the policies are followed and the reports accurately depict exactly what happened on each incident. We review so we can learn, improve and remain accountable to our entire community.
“Sometimes the reviews lead to change in policies and sometimes discipline. We always strive to take the right action for our community, our officers and our department.
“After this incident I met with the man who was injured in the video, while he was still in the hospital. At that time, I assured and promised him that a full review was being conducted. In fact, I just met with him again today in my office and offered my deepest apologies on behalf of the entire St. Paul Police Department.
“Our reaction to this incident has been decisive, it’s been fair and we will continue to learn from it. We will become a better police department, and we already have. As a result of this incident, we have increased our training for officers, we have reaffirmed our expectations that the entire department will continue to do the right thing. But most importantly, we will do everything in our power every day to ensure that we deliver trusted service with respect, without fail. We have the unwavering commitment to do the right thing, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that this doesn’t happen again in the city of St. Paul.”
Police union response
Directly after the police department’s press conference, members of the St. Paul Police Federation held its own conference. Leaders said the officers’ actions went along with protocol.
“The officers acted within policy and training. Address has high calls for service and is well-known by the officers involved. The amount of gun play on the eastside is very high and the danger is very real for cops,” said David Titus with the St. Paul Police Federation.
Leaders of NAACP St. Paul and other community groups called for the officers to be fired in a separate press conference. NAACP President Jeffry Martin called the video “grotesque.” He also asked for the officers who were bystanders to the incident to be suspended or reprimanded.
“The call was for a youth fight. How can a 53-year-old black man be confused with a youth?” said Martin. “And once you figured out once you were close enough to see, well maybe this isn’t the person we’re looking for – why don’t you engage in a conversation? But no, you send an animal to attack because you don’t value that person.”
Statement from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
“I am deeply disturbed by what I saw on the video. I have full faith that the Chief is handling this case appropriately and that appropriate discipline will be taken. While I want to be fully transparent, Minnesota law prevents me from talking about disciplinary action until any employee appeals period is over. Our community can take comfort in earlier cases, such as the departure of Sergeant Jeff Rothecker. I believe these outcomes show why the Saint Paul Police Department is one of the best in the country, that the Chief and officers care deeply about building relationships with the communities they serve and that there is no room in the department for officers who do not perform their duties with honor and respect.”
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