On any given day on the third floor of St. Paul police headquarters, you are likely to read several incident reports detailing cases of shoplifters being nabbed at the Midway Wal-Mart store. The offender is usually questioned by an off-duty police officer working security, given a citation and then released.

It’s almost routine. Except of course, when it’s not.

On Sunday, officer Michael Tschida was alerted to a man suspected of taking a wireless speaker without paying for it. Tschida, working off-duty in the store, located at 1450 University Av., confronted the man in the store’s vestibule. That’s when routine turned scary.

James R. Frei, 34, a Wisconsin man with a history of violence and weapons offenses, allegedly pulled out a hand gun. A photo shows Frei pointing the gun at Tschida’s face. The five-year veteran of the department slapped the gun away, drew his own weapon and chased Frei out of the store. He fired several shots into Frei’s pickup as it sped away.

Police caught Frei a short time later. No one was hurt.

On Tuesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and St. Paul police Sgt. Paul Paulos talked about how quickly routine police calls can turn. A year ago, Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick was gunned down during a “routine” traffic stop by a man — Brian Fitch Sr. — with a history of violence who, like Frei, had warrants out for his arrest.

So far in 2015, 59 U.S. police officers have died in the line of duty. In 2014, 117 officers died, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund in Washington D.C. Some, certainly, involved so-called “routine” calls.

In 2013, Tschida attempted a traffic stop that turned into an 8-mile chase. The suspect was shot after Tschida and another officer said they saw a gun in his hand. The man was later charged with murder in an unrelated case.

“There’s very little of anything routine about this job,” Choi said.

Said Paulos: “In this case, we’re just lucky that St. Paul didn’t lose one of its own.”

 

jwalsh@startribune.com