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Attack on bystander spurs reform of St. Paul K-9 unit

Glenn Slaughter was injured when a St. Paul police K-9 broke loose and bit him Friday, July 6. Police were looking for a man with a gun, but the police department says Slaughter was not involved in that case and was accidentally bit. (Courtesy of Anne Shomshor)

ST. PAUL—"Why me? Why is this happening?" Glenn Slaughter thought as a St. Paul police K-9 clamped down on his arm last week.

Officers say that Slaughter, 33, was not involved in the weapons call they responded to early Friday, July 6, and that the K-9 accidentally bit him.

The case led the mayor and police chief to announce Monday that St. Paul's police dogs will be used more sparingly amid "significant changes" and an external audit.

Most of Slaughter's wounds were to his right forearm, but the dog also bit his back. His worst injury is a puncture wound on his side. It's a dime-sized hole measured at the hospital as 4 inches deep, said Anne Shomshor, the fiancee of Slaughter's brother.

Slaughter — who lives with his brother, Shomshor and other relatives in St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff area — works overnights for a warehouse at IKEA.

As he walked to his car to go to work about 2 a.m. Friday, Slaughter didn't notice police officers, Shomshor said. Slaughter was resting Tuesday and unavailable to talk.

Suddenly, Slaughter saw an officer's flashlight. An officer said, "Put your hands up" and told Slaughter to get down on the ground, Shomshor said.

Police had responded early Friday to a report of a male with a gun. The suspect fled, and as police searched for him, they ordered Slaughter to lie on the ground for his safety, which he did, according to a police spokesman.

But Slaughter "heard footsteps coming toward him, the chain drop to the ground and then the dog was on him," Shomshor said.

The dog's handler, officer Mark Ross, gave repeated commands for K-9 Suttree to release Slaughter body-camera footage shows. He activated the dog's electronic collar, but Suttree did not stop biting, and Ross had to physically remove him from Slaughter. It took about 20 seconds, according to the police department.

'The dog got Glenn!'

Nick Slaughter, Glenn's brother, had returned home from work just before midnight. He said goodbye as his brother headed to work and was watching TV when he heard screaming coming from outside.

He opened the door, saw the dog attacking and shouted to the officers, "What are you doing? My brother is just trying to get to work!" Shomshor said.

Police told Nick Slaughter to get inside and he went upstairs, screaming to Shomshor, "The dog got Glenn!"

Paramedics checked out Glenn Slaughter, and his brother took him to the hospital, where he spent five hours. Medical staff cleaned out his wounds and gave him antibiotics, Shomshor said.

Ross was apologetic to Slaughter and explained that the dog's collar snapped, according to Shomshor. He also went to the hospital to bring Slaughter his phone and keys, told him again he was sorry about what happened and said the police department would take care of his medical costs.

Slaughter and his family were initially worried he'd sustained nerve damage because he had little feeling in his right thumb — "at first, he couldn't hold a pop can or a glass" — but the feeling is returning, Shomshor said Tuesday. Slaughter has not been able to return to work.

Family hopes changes will stick

Police Chief Todd Axtell wrote in an email to department employees Tuesday that he made the decision Monday to change policy and practices for when and how officers use K-9s.

"These changes are necessary to make sure we are doing everything possible to minimize risk — risk to officers, risk to the department and risk to the people we serve. By implementing new ideas, a fresh approach, newer safeguards and an independent review, we create an opportunity for continuous success and confidence," Axtell wrote.

"Canines will still be available on the most serious and dangerous of calls," the police chief's email continued. "They'll still help locate missing persons, guns, drugs and evidence. But the goal is to minimize the number of accidental bites that occur."

Shomshor said she and her family members hope the changes don't "just happen for a few weeks or a few months, but that it's an ongoing improvement."

The police department is still determining how the external audit of the K-9 unit will be carried out, police spokesman Steve Linders said Tuesday.

Suttree is no longer with the K-9 unit, and Ross is being re-assigned, Linders said. An internal-affairs investigation involving Ross was opened on Monday, according to the police department.

Slaughter "is weighing his options" about filing a lawsuit, but his main priority is that "people are held accountable," Shomshor said.

After the police department released body-camera footage of what happened Friday, Slaughter could watch only the first part of it because he didn't want to re-live the experience, said Shomshor, who waited until Tuesday to view it.

"It's disturbing because you can hear Glenn's screams, and you can hear how scared he is," she said. "... He knows at the end of the day, it had nothing to do with him. It really is a wrong place, wrong time scenario. But it's scary because I have a young son and kids are out of school for the summer — it could have been anyone walking out of the house. If it was that easy for the dog's collar to malfunction or whatever the situation was, it was an uncontrolled situation and that's scary."

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