Injured Gem Lake retiree sues, saying he was manhandled over supermarket samples
It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon one April, and just as they had done many times before, Erwin Lingitz and his wife stopped at the Cub Foods near their home so he could run in and pick up a prescription.
And, just as the retiree had plenty of times before, Lingitz paused at one of the little tables offering free samples. This one was for lunchmeat, and the man took one and asked if he could take another for his waiting wife. He slipped it in his pocket.
Two days later, the bruised and battered 65-year-old Gem Lake man was released from jail.
The tale of what allegedly happened to Lingitz in the supermarket that spring day in 2010 is now a federal lawsuit. The retired lab machinist is suing Ramsey County, the sheriff’s office, three of its deputies, the company that owns Cub Foods, the store’s security guard and Twin City Lawmen, Inc., the company that hired the security guard.
The suit says the guard thought Lingitz was shoplifting the free sample and manhandled him, and deputies who responded to the scene body-slammed him face-first into the sidewalk.
Lingitz’s attorney, Robert Gardner, said the deputies showed signs of “psychological instability.”
“There are too many people carrying badges or carrying guns or cop-wannabes and I think they are just too aggressive,” Gardner said in an interview.
A spokesman for Supervalu Inc., which owns the Cub Foods supermarket chain, declined to comment Thursday, March 14.
“With the lawsuit just being
filed today, we need an opportunity to review the complaint,” Mike Siemienas said.
The Ramsey County sheriff’s office referred a request for comment to the county attorney’s office, but spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said officials there had not yet received the lawsuit so could not respond.
Phone listings could not be found for Twin City Lawmen or Dave Mars, the man listed in state business records as its CEO.
Maplewood prosecutors later charged Lingitz, now 68, with two counts of interfering with a peace officer, shoplifting and disorderly conduct, all misdemeanors. The state dropped one of the interference counts and agreed to continue the others for dismissal after Lingitz completed a year of unsupervised probation.
A Ramsey County judge dismissed the charges in March 2012.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Thursday. Attached as exhibits are photos taken of Lingitz at Regions Hospital, where the deputies took him before booking him into jail.
The photos show a man with two black eyes, a laceration on the bridge of his nose and a bruise and cut on his right forehead. Another photo shows a cut inside his lower lip.
The suit says the incident began about 2:43 p.m. April 24, 2010, as Lingitz and his wife stopped at the Cub Foods on Meadowlands Drive in White Bear Township. While his wife, Frankie, waited in the car, Lingitz went inside to get a prescription.
“On such date, as on past occasions, Cub Foods personnel solicited Plaintiff to sample free food samples (luncheon meats and sauces) that it was promoting to its customers; with his wife waiting in their parked vehicle, Cub’s personnel gave Plaintiff additional free samples to take outside to share with his wife,” the suit says.
Lingitz slipped the freebie into his pocket. The suit alleges that at that point, the man was approached by a security guard, Frank Patterson, “who disrespectfully shouted, ‘Hey Dude you took something; you got something in your pocket.'”
Lingitz, who is originally from Austria, told Patterson that he didn’t have anything that he was supposed to pay for and “politely asked Patterson to please not speak to him that way,” the suit says.
Patterson forced his hand into Lingitz’s pocket “thereby initiating a physical struggle,” the suit says. Other supermarket employees joined in, and Patterson pinned Lingitz against a stack of bags of water softener salt.
Someone had called police and Ramsey County deputy Daniel Eggers, who was in plain clothes, responded in an unmarked car.
The suit says Eggers joined the struggle, “grabbing, pushing and throwing Plaintiff from side to side.”
Eggers told Lingitz he was with the sheriff’s office and told the man to turn around and place his hands behind his back. He showed Lingitz his badge.
Lingitz proclaimed his innocence and told the deputy that his wife was waiting for him in the car. Eggers slapped the handcuffs on the man’s left wrist and then, “exhibiting marked psychological instability, overreacted,” the suit contends.
Apparently fearing the dangling handcuff could be used as a weapon, Eggers grabbed Lingitz’s head “and body-slammed him face first into the concrete sidewalk then, in turn, proceeded to dig his knees into Plaintiff’s back,” the complaint says. While Lingitz was on the ground, the deputy “proceeded to kick the back of Plaintiff’s head and his ribs, while Patterson kicked Plaintiff in the knee.”
A second deputy, identified in the suit as Richard Werdien, arrived and “overreacted by jamming his knee into Plaintiff’s back and, utilizing maximum body pressure, forcing Plaintiff’s face into the concrete sidewalk until other officers arrived on the scene,” the complaint alleges.
Lingitz was bleeding and started having chest pains; he feared he was having a heart attack. He was taken to Regions Hospital and, after treatment, was booked into the Ramsey County Jail.
The suit contends that at the jail, an unidentified deputy identified only as “John Doe” deprived Lingitz of the medicine he needed.
Lingitz was released from jail April 26, and that same day, Ramsey County authorities charged him with disorderly conduct, interfering with the officers and shoplifting.
Gardner said one false charge — alleged shoplifting — led to the other two.
“This would be a great law school or bar exam question: When someone gives you a free sample and encourages you to take an additional sample, does that constitute shoplifting? Of course not. That’s an absurdity,” said Gardner.
In February 2011, Lingitz’s criminal case was continued for dismissal, meaning that if he remained law abiding for a year, the charges would be dismissed. He did and they were.
Lingitz alleges in the suit that he and his wife asked Cub Foods for a copy of video from the store’s surveillance cameras, but the tape the store gave them was blank, “indicating that Cub Foods had erased” evidence of the incident.
The man also contends that Eggers and Werdien “contrived false, so-called incident reports.”
The suit accuses Ramsey County, the sheriff’s office and the three deputies of civil rights violations.
The deputies, Patterson, Twin City Lawmen and Cub Foods also are accused of negligence.
Gardner said the case is unusual because the claim of police misconduct comes from someone with a spotless record.
“Oftentimes, the people involved have criminal records or there are drugs involved,” he said. “This is a 65-year-old retired man. Not even a parking ticket. This guy is a real citizen.”
David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516.via Injured Gem Lake retiree sues, saying he was manhandled over supermarket samples – TwinCities.com.