A Maplewood fitness club manager tackled and disarmed a man who pointed a handgun at the manager's chest while complaining that members were exercising without wearing face masks, prosecutors said Monday.
Michael M. Florhaug, 64, of Maplewood, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon in connection with the incident about 30 minutes before Thursday's 6 p.m. closing time at the LA Fitness on County Road D near White Bear Avenue.
Florhaug remained jailed in lieu of $50,000 bail before a court appearance Tuesday. Court records do not list an attorney for him.
Assistant manager Mike Olson, 33, said Monday afternoon that "I just kind of knew that it had to be done. It didn't take much thinking. It was more of a reaction."
Olson credited his willingness to risk his life to his four years in the Army, especially during an eight-month tour in Iraq in 2007-08.
"It was definitely more dangerous" in Baghdad than during last week's confrontation with an armed and angry man, said Olson, who left the service in 2011 at the rank of specialist and with two Army Achievement Medals among other commendations. "We were kicking in doors and doing our best in the city."
Olson's boss, Andrew Heitz, said Olson handled the situation well. "I'm glad he was there at the time," Heitz said.
Maplewood police investigative Sgt. Joe Steiner said that while "we definitely recommend that people call the police and try not to take matters in their own hands, it appears that the manager didn't really have a choice. He felt like people's lives were at risk. … He did a great job."
The criminal complaint pointed out that Florhaug had a state-issued permit in his wallet that allows him to carry a gun in public.
True to his advocacy, Florhaug did have on a mask during the tension-filled moments in the gym, Olson said.
According to the complaint:
Florhaug complained to a front desk employee about gym members inside without masks on, as the state requires as part of the effort to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Olson stepped in and told Florhaug, who was not an active club member, to leave while explaining that the gym lacked the staff to enforce the mandate.
The assistant manager also told Florhaug that he "was welcome to pay an employee out of his own pocket to enforce the mask rules," the complaint read. Olson said Monday that "I asked it in a humorous way to defuse the situation."
In response to the tongue-in-cheek suggestion, Florhaug yelled at Olson, called him dumb and said he intended to go around the club and photograph members.
Olson put up his hands to halt Florhaug, who countered by pointing a gun at him, the complaint continued. Olson backed away as Florhaug put the gun back in his sweatshirt pocket.
As Florhaug walked toward the front of the gym, Olson tackled him from behind, took the gun and removed its ammunition.
Olson "thought Florhaug was going to shoot members who didn't have masks on," the complaint read.
Police arrived and arrested Florhaug. He told officers he belonged to the gym but had not worked out since the pandemic began and came by the facility to check on mask compliance before resuming his workouts.
Heitz, the club's operations manager, told the Star Tribune about Florhaug visiting in September and being "a little upset that we weren't able to give him a refund."
Florhaug explained to officers that he wanted to take photos of members in order to get the gym in trouble for not complying with the mask mandate, the complaint read.
He then went on to accuse Olson of pushing and tackling him as he tried to leave.
Florhaug dismissed any concerns about endangering anyone, saying he only "flashed the gun."
Thinking about how people in his city are coping amid the pandemic, Police Sgt. Steiner recalled a physical altercation at the Cub Foods a few months ago between two people clashing over not wearing a mask.
Steiner noted that "I think everyone has the same sense that people are a little on edge the longer COVID goes on."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482