Judge Rules St. Paul Police K-9 Bite Violated Woman's 4th Amendment Rights

A video stillframe included in the lawsuit Photo: SPPD body camera
A video stillframe included in the lawsuit

August 09, 2018 05:09 PM

A judge has ruled a woman's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when a police K-9 bit her during a search for two suspects in September.

Desiree Collins filed a lawsuit against officer Thaddeus Schmidt in U.S. District Court in December.

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According to the lawsuit, Collins was taking out her garbage while police were searching for two suspects involved in a crime. The K-9 involved in the search then bit Collins after turning around a dumpster. The incident was caught on body camera footage. 

RELATED: Lawyers Argue St. Paul Police K-9 Bite Lawsuit

In court last month, Schmidt's lawyers acknowledged the officer made mistakes in the handling of the animal. His lawyer added that officers know there are inherent risks when working with K-9s.

The lawyer did question whether the incident violated Collins' rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. 

Collins' lawyer argued her constitutional rights were clearly violated, and that the dog biting her was considered an unreasonable seizure. 

RELATED: Woman Sues St. Paul Police Officer after Being Bitten by K-9

The first issue the judge ruled on was whether the dog's bite constituted a seizure.

"Because Schmidt intended for Gabe to seize the first person he encountered, because Gabe did seize the first person he encountered, and because Collins was that person, Collins was seized," the ruling read.

The judge also concluded the seizure was unreasonable.

"Because there is a serious question as to whether there was any governmental interest justifying the search after the suspect was apprehended and because Schmidt’s failure to give effective warnings and maintain control of his K-9 partner were unreasonable as a matter of law, the seizure of Collins was unreasonable," the judge ruled.

Finally, the judge determined Schmidt would not be granted qualified immunity, which "shields a public official from liability for civil damages when his 'conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'"

"While there is no evidence that Schmidt knowingly violated the law, there is no question that he should have known better," the judge ruled.

Ultimately, the judge granted Collins' motion for summary judgment on liability.

"Schmidt's contention is that his actions, while negligent, did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation," the judge's ruling read. "But even taking the facts in the light most favorable to Schmidt, his actions were more than negligent. They were reckless. And they violated Collins's clearly established constitutional rights."

The case will now go to trial on damages.

Credits

Anthony Brousseau & Ben Rodgers

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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