Minn. man drops suit over free-sample ruckus at Cub Foods

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2014 - 5:37 AM

After being confronted about taking too many freebies, a Gem Lake man claimed he was jumped and beaten.

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A yearlong legal squabble over the alleged beating of a retiree that made national headlines and triggered a brief furor over the socially acceptable limits of helping one’s self to free grocery samples has come to a quiet end.

Erwin A. Lingitz, 69, has agreed to dismiss the lawsuit he filed in federal court last March seeking at least $375,000 in damages after claiming that he was jumped, beaten and kicked outside a Cub Foods store in White Bear Lake after being confronted for taking too many free food samples.

Ramsey County, several county sheriff’s deputies, a store security guard, the store’s security firm — Twin City Lawmen Inc. — and Cub parent company Supervalu Inc. (later replaced by Kowalski Cos. Inc., the store’s actual owner) were named as defendants in the suit.

According to documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Lingitz, of Gem Lake, agreed to drop claims that the defendants violated his civil rights, used excessive force and denied him medical care while he was held in Ramsey County jail after the April 2010 incident.

Under terms of the agreement, none of the damages Lingitz sought were awarded. Ramsey County paid only attorney fees of $3,000. The agreement also included a confidentiality clause that prohibits all parties from discussing the case or what led to the final resolution.

According to the suit, Lingitz, a long-standing customer of the local Cub store, left his wife in the car while he went inside to pick up her prescription. He said that while he was in the store, he was offered free food samples along with additional samples to bring to his wife.

When store security guard Frank Patterson spotted Lingitz putting items in his pockets, he followed him out the door and confronted him.

Lingitz claimed that despite insisting that he had not stolen anything, the guard yelled at him and forced his hand into his pockets, setting off a physical struggle. Patterson, much larger than Lingitz, pinned Lingitz against a stack of water softener salt at the store’s entrance, court documents said.

At that point, Daniel Eggers, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in plain clothes who had been nearby, tried to handcuff Lingitz. In the process, Eggers grabbed Lingitz around the head and slammed him face down to the sidewalk.

The deputy then pinned Lingitz to the ground with his knees in his back in an action the suit called an overreaction. He also kicked the back of Lingitz’s head and ribs and Patterson kicked his knee, the suit said.

The store denied Lingitz was kicked or slammed to the ground and asserted that Lingitz put up a struggle and refused to empty his pockets. The county also asserted that Lingitz had not followed the deputy’s commands, and that Eggers used reasonable force when trying to handcuff Lingitz.

A photo presented as evidence showed Lingitz with two black eyes and a gash across his nose. The county said the injuries were the result of Lingitz thrashing around on the ground and resisting arrest.

Items found in his pockets included 14-16 packets of soy sauce, more than a half-pound of summer sausage and nearly a pound of beef stick. The items had been offered by the store at two unattended sample platters.

According to court documents, Lingitz had been warned previously by store workers about taking too many free samples. Specifically, he had been seen filling plastic bags with 10-20 cookies from the store’s “kids’ cookie club tray,” which is limited to one cookie per child. He was told that cookies were only for children.

The store also denied Lingitz was offered multiple free samples.

After the fracas, Lingitz was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul and later, to the Ramsey County jail. One claim in the lawsuit said he was refused needed medication, which the county denied.

 

Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson

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