HASTINGS, Minn. - A $10 corkscrew is causing all kinds of trouble for Hastings Police Officer Rene Doffing.
Doffing was charged last week for misdemeanor theft after allegedly stealing a corkscrew from the Green Mill here on Nov. 22.
If convicted, Doffing could lose his license to be a law enforcement official and could ultimately lose his job.
According to the criminal complaint, Hastings police officers had gathered at the Green Mill for a union meeting on Nov. 22.
An off-duty Dakota County Deputy, Bryce Schuenke, was seated at the bar. He witnessed a man (later identified as Doffing) approach the bar to order a soda. When the bartender walked away, Schuenke said he saw Doffing lean forward over the top of the bar and look underneath it.
Schuenke kept watching Doffing and saw him reach his hand over the bar and into a pail to grab what appeared to be a corkscrew or a bottle opener.
Schuenke watched as Doffing opened the opener, looked at the attachments, closed it and then concealed it in the palm of his hand.
Schuenke then watched Doffing slide his hand into his front pants pocket, placing the opener in the pocket.
The bartender served Doffing the soda, and Doffing walked away.
Schuenke then observed two uniformed Hastings Police officers enter the restaurant, and he decided to approach them.
Schuenke approached a few officers and began to tell them what happened. At that point, Doffing walked into the room.
Doffing overheard Schuenke explaining what he observed and then "leaned over and produced the bottle opener out of his pocket" and said something similar to "Yeah, I've got it, it's right here, they said I could have it," according to the complaint.
Doffing put the opener back in his pocket and walked away.
According to the complaint, "many (officers) were shocked at what they saw and heard."
That's when Schuenke learned Doffing was a police officer in Hastings.
Schuenke went back to the bar and spoke with the bartender, who confirmed that a corkscrew had been stolen.
On Dec. 7, an Eagan investigator met with the manager on duty who retrieved the bottle opener from Doffing. She said the restaurant was running a wine and pasta special and the site had just two corkscrews left. She approached Doffing and asked for the corkscrew back. According to the complaint, the manager said Doffing "looked somewhat shocked, however, he moved his plate off to the side and with his left hand pulled the bottle opener out from underneath the rim of the plate."
An employee of the Green Mill contacted Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell about the theft. He referred the case to the Eagan Police Department to avoid any potential conflict of interest.
Chad Richardson is a reporter at the Hastings (Minn.) Star-Gazette, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.