A former officer with the St. Paul Police Department in St. Paul, Minnesota, was sentenced today to six years in prison after a jury found him guilty of a civil rights violation.
Brett Palkowitsch, 31, was sentenced on May 21 after being found guilty of using excessive force against an unarmed civilian. At the sentencing hearing, Palkowitsch waived the right to appeal his conviction and publicly apologized for his use of excessive force.
“Instead of lawfully carrying out his critical public safety responsibilities, Palkowitsch abused his authority by using excessive force,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute officers who engage in criminal misconduct.”
“Law enforcement officers take an oath to serve and protect the public,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Minneapolis Field Office. “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.”
The evidence presented at trial established that the defendant and other officers responded to a 911 call alleging that an unidentified black male with dreadlocks and a white t-shirt had been involved in a street fight and was carrying a gun. Upon their arrival on scene, officers found no evidence of any street fight, but they noticed one man who matched that general description, sitting in his car talking on a cellphone.
One of the responding officers, along with his police K-9, approached the man’s car and, without identifying himself as a police officer, yelled at the man to get out. The man, later identified as Frank Baker, got out of the car, as the officer yelled commands and the police K-9 barked loudly at him. Seven seconds later, the officer released the K-9, which took Baker to the ground and began mauling his leg. While Baker was on the ground, screaming in pain, the defendant arrived and kicked Baker three times in the ribs.
The defendant’s kicks broke seven of Baker’s ribs and caused both of his lungs to collapse, putting him in critical condition. Officers found no gun at the scene and no evidence that Baker, a 52-year-old grandfather who lived in the neighborhood, had been involved in any fight.
Two veteran officers who witnessed the defendant’s actions that night, officers Joseph Dick and Anthony Spencer, reported the defendant to their supervisor. Dick and Spencer both testified at trial about the defendant’s use of excessive force and about the harassment and retaliation they suffered after stepping forward to report a fellow officer. They and other officers also testified that after the arrest, back at the police station, the defendant boasted to several officers about the force of his kicks and about having seriously injured Baker.
At the sentencing hearing, District Judge Wilhelmina Wright of the District of Minnesota told the defendant, who had been entrusted with a position of authority, “You flagrantly abused that trust.”
This case was investigated by the Minneapolis Division of the FBI and was prosecuted by Special Litigation Counsel Christopher J. Perras and former Trial Attorney Zachary Dembo of the Civil Rights Division.
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