Arbitrator: St. Paul officer who kicked man should be reinstated

A St. Paul police officer who was captured on dashcam video kicking a man last June should be reinstated, according to a state arbitrator who determined he was fired last year without just cause.

In November, the St. Paul Police Department released video of a man, Frank Baker, getting kicked by Officer Brett Palkowitsch and bitten by a St. Paul Police K-9. Police later discovered Baker was not the man they were looking for.

On Wednesday, the City of St. Paul officially approved a $2 million settlement with Baker for injuries he received in the incident.

Days after the police department released the video, Chief Axtell released a statement that Palkowitsch had been fired. Officer Brian Ficcadenti, who released the K-9, received a 30-day unpaid suspension.

The arbitrator, Richard John Miller, decided Palkowitsch should have received a 30-day unpaid suspension and should be reinstated to his former position. The city argued Palkowitsch’s three kicks to Baker were too excessive.

According to the decision, the St. Paul police department does not have policy prohibiting the use of kicks. Starting in January, the department started training officers that kicking is no longer an acceptable use of force. The arbitrator also pointed to prior incidents where St. Paul officers used kicks, but received a lesser discipline or no discipline.

Miller agreed that Palkowitsch acted appropriately because dispatch had told him Baker had a firearm. It wasn’t until Palkowitsch had handcuffed him that the officers discovered Baker was unarmed.

“The entire situation could have easily been avoided had Mr. Baker simply complied with the reasonable commands of officer Ficcadenti, who asked Mr. Baker to leave his vehicle and keep both hands in the air and approach him," wrote Miller.

St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus statement:

“This decision, the second in three years overturning a City of St. Paul Chief of Police’s decision to terminate an officer, should put the City on notice that such a termination may not be based on feelings and emotions, but rather facts. Officer Palkowitsch looks forward to returning to proactively serving the citizens of St. Paul, and helping keep our streets safe.”

St. Paul Police Chief Axtell statement:

"This incident has been difficult for everyone in our department. It required a strong response that accurately reflects our values, which is to ensure that our actions are reasonable, necessary and done with respect.
"While I respect the process, I remain disappointed that an officer used excessive force, put his colleagues’ safety in jeopardy and severely injured an innocent man. The arbitrator agrees with my assessment that excessive force was used, and I stand by my decision to hold everyone in our department to the highest possible standards.

"When I became chief last summer, I said that I would always support officers when their actions were reasonable, necessary and done with respect. That remains true today. It’s also true that I have a duty to respond swiftly when actions do not reflect our values. That’s the role of the chief and a responsibility I accept.

"We will move forward with the knowledge that one incident does not define the Saint Paul Police Department or our officers, who strive to deliver trusted service with respect every day."