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‘From the Bottom of My Heart’: White St. Paul Officer Apologizes During Sentencing for Beating Innocent Black Man Who Was Already Getting Mauled By Police Dog

A former St. Paul, Minnesota officer was sentenced to six years in prison by a federal court judge on Friday, May 21, for using excessive force against an unarmed civilian during a 2016 arrest involving a K-9.

Brett Palkowitsch, 31, had previously been found guilty of kicking and injuring then-52-year-old Frank Baker as another officer was allowing a police dog to maul Baker’s leg.

Palkowitsch who was also found guilty of a civil rights violation in November 2019 apologized for his use of excessive force and waived the right to appeal his conviction. The hearing was delayed due to the pandemic because Palkowitsch had not consented to a video hearing.

“Law enforcement officers take an oath to serve and protect the public,” said the FBI Minneapolis Field Office in a statement. “When an officer betrays that oath and violates a person’s civil rights, that officer must be held accountable. Our community, and our profession, deserve no less.”

Palkowitsch’s prison sentence was expected to be between four and five years, but District Judge Wilhelmina Wright rejected a May 14 sentencing agreement.

“You flagrantly abused that trust,” she said.

Former St. Paul Officer Brett Palkowitsch, 31, had previously been found guilty of kicking and injuring then 52-year-year-old Frank Baker (right) during a police detention in 2016. (Photos: ABC5 YouTube screenshot)

On June 24, 2016, Baker had just arrived at his home when he took off his dress shirt and remained in his vehicle to make a phone call. At about the same time someone made a report about a potential fight and the dispatcher told police the suspect was a Black man with dreads wearing a white T-shirt.

When police arrived on the scene of the purported fight, they found no sign of any fracas but did spot Baker in his car. K-9 handler Brian Ficcadenti was the first to approach the Baker and ordered him out of the car. Trial testimony showed that Baker complied with the command, but when he emerged from the vehicle with police yelling at him and the dog barking at him Ficcadenti set the dog on the grandfather within seven seconds of his emergence from his car.

With Baker writhing on the ground with the dog’s mouth clamped around his leg, Palkowitsch approached to handcuff him but first kicked the subdued and compliant man three times in the ribs. The trial court heard how the kicks broke seven of Baker’s ribs and collapsed both his lungs. Three other officers who were on the scene have testified that Baker was not uncooperative and was not believed to be a threat. Footage of the encounter was played repeatedly during the trial.

The injury on Baker’s leg was severe enough to require skin grafts.

Baker sued the city of St. Paul and settled the suit for $2 million in 2017.

Palkowitsch was fired from the department in 2019 after the jury found him guilty for the excessive use of force.

Baker, now 57, still suffers from health problems related to injuries he sustained in the K-9 attack and is unable to play sports with his grandchildren.

“They call me the Black superman,” Baker told MPR News. “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.”

Palkowitsch spoke directly to Baker at the hearing, saying with tears in his eyes, “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.”

He is scheduled to report to federal prison on June 21.

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