Eden Prairie police have decided not to file criminal charges in connection with a dog attack last month on the exit ramp from westbound Interstate 494 to Flying Cloud Drive.
Sgt. Scott Mittelstadt, who conducted the investigation, confirmed last week that the department wouldn’t be pursuing charges.
“We don’t really have substantial evidence either way to charge anybody with this,” Mittelstadt said on Aug. 30. “Now, can the victim (pursue civil action) against the dog owners? Yes, absolutely. But, legally and criminally speaking, we don’t have substantial evidence to charge anybody on this.”
Investigators examined whether a man from Brooklyn Center, who was panhandling on the exit ramp with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, approached the vehicle containing the dogs. Such an action could be interpreted as provocation, as stated in the police report.
The dogs’ owners claim the man approached within two feet of their car, waving a sign at the dogs. However, witnesses described him in different pre-attack locations, either seated in a chair or standing with a sign.
Police emphasized in the report that to label the dogs as “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous,” there must be evidence the attack was unprovoked. However, the report noted that police lacked substantial evidence regarding whether the Brooklyn Center man approached the vehicle.
“What would we have to prove or be able to disprove is if the dogs felt provoked or not,” Mittelstadt said. “So that’s the part we unfortunately can’t have conclusive reasoning, or conclusive evidence, behind.”
Exit ramp incident
At about 2:40 p.m. on Aug. 16, a New Hope couple with three dogs in their vehicle stopped at the exit. One of the dogs suddenly jumped out of an open window, attacking the mother and child, police reported.
The mother suffered bites on her arms and leg and spent three days at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Her daughter received treatment for minor wounds. While initial reports suggested the father was injured, later updates clarified this as inaccurate.
When detailing the events to police, the dogs’ owners said the male panhandler approached the driver’s side of their vehicle on foot, holding a sign for help. As he got closer, the dogs began to bark. One of the owners said he shook his head “no” to the man, but he continued walking toward the car. That’s when one of the dogs jumped out of the backseat window. When the owners went out to get one dog, the other two jumped out of the car.
One of the dog owners believed that only one dog had bitten the female and described the dog as a 10-month-old pit bull Labrador mix.
In an Aug. 21 phone interview with Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN), witness P.M. Ernste of Prior Lake said she was with her adult daughter, preparing to turn left (south) onto Flying Cloud Drive from the right lane to head to Costco.
Ernste told police that as she approached the exit, she observed a man sitting in a folding chair on the side of the road with a woman and a girl on the ground beside him. A vehicle containing the dogs stopped in the left-turn lane just before Ernste came to a halt.
When asked if she believed the panhandler approached the vehicle, Ernste said, “I don’t believe it; I don’t know. Everything happened so fast, though, I don’t know. And driving by before, I’ve never seen them go up to a car. But I don’t know. It’s so sad. I wish it would have never happened.”
On Aug. 28, the man from Brooklyn Center, originally from Romania, told police through an interpreter that a vehicle pulled up to the intersection and a dog jumped from the back window. Once outside, the dog charged at his daughter. His wife tried to shield the girl by wrapping her arms around her.
He also told the police that his wife is recovering well with full movement in her limbs, but she needs to return to the hospital daily to change her bandages. He added that his daughter’s injuries were minor, and she is doing OK.
According to Mittelstadt, the dogs were quarantined at a Bloomington animal shelter because police couldn’t verify their rabies vaccinations. The dogs were released two days after the owners provided vaccination records for all three animals. The owners agreed to continue the quarantine at their residence for 10 days. “That time has since expired,” Mittelstadt added.
Police contacted the New Hope Police Department’s animal control to inquire about prior interactions with the dogs. They had none. The dogs had not previously been labeled “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous.”
Mittelstadt emphasized that it’s legal to panhandle in the city. “They can do that,” he said. “As long as they don’t interfere with the traffic or cross against the crosswalk or anything like that. But, again, I don’t have any evidence to suggest that they did that either.”
Ernste expressed sympathy for the panhandlers. “Nobody deserves that,” she said. “It couldn’t have been a kid riding across the street.”
Two witnesses to the Aug. 16 incident provided detailed accounts of the incident.
After stopping at the corner, Ernste and her daughter saw a dog leap from a vehicle. “I opened my door because I was going to go out and help, then I heard sceaming,” Ernste said. “I just got out and didn’t even think twice.”
She saw a woman on the ground shielding her toddler from an attacking dog. The woman’s husband tried to protect them, pushing the dogs away and using items like an umbrella and chair they had on the corner.
“It was just pure chaos,” she said.
The attack continued until another passerby, coming upon the scene, honked her vehicle’s horn. The sound startled the dogs, allowing their owners to regain control.
“All I knew was I was going to drive my car right up to it, but I just started honking, and I don’t know why,” said the passerby, an Edina woman who wanted to stay anonymous. “I started honking, and with that, I saw all the dogs had looked up at me.”
The Edina woman provided refuge for the attacked family in her car.
As Ernste helped the injured woman in the car, she noticed two large gashes on her right arm, one deep enough to expose the bone. Ernste said she then used one of her shirts as a makeshift bandage.
“She was screaming, non-stop screaming,” Ernste said of the injured woman. “My daughter actually got an alert on her (Apple Watch indicating) that the decibels were so high.”
On Aug. 21, the Edina woman said she was still grappling with what she had seen that afternoon. Even after professional detailing, not all the blood could be removed from the seats, and she is considering a trade-in for the vehicle.
“I don’t want to be in that car right now,” she said. “I’m having a hard time with this.”
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