The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that a St. Paul police officer sued over an incident that occurred while he was working as a private security guard is not entitled to a legal defense by the city of St. Paul.
Officer Eric Reetz was sued for alleged negligence by a woman who was stabbed by a male client at a St. Paul homeless shelter on Dec. 30, 2016. The lawsuit said Reetz failed to detect the knife that the man smuggled in during his security shift.
Reetz contended he was entitled to a city defense. But the Supreme Court ruled otherwise Wednesday, overturning an Appeals Court ruling that had supported Reetz against the city's rejection of representation for him.
"Because we conclude that Reetz was not 'acting in the performance of the duties of the position' of a police officer under [Minnesota law] when he allegedly failed to detect the knife at the homeless shelter, the City was not required to defend and indemnify him," the Supreme Court's ruling said.
Reetz had argued that the city was required to defend him because "off-duty police officers who provide private security services can also be performing police duties because they 'perform these duties while in uniform and maintain the arrest power' as if they were on duty."
The city concluded that he was not performing his duties as a police officer while he was working at the Dorothy Day Center, which is operated by Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities paid Reetz $40 per hour for examining bags as clients entered, part of an effort to keep weapons, drugs and alcohol from entering the center.
St. Paul Police Department policy required him to wear his uniform while working off-duty and allowed him to use his patrol car with prior approval.
While Reetz was required to have his off-duty work approved, the city was not a party to his agreement with Catholic Charities, the Supreme Court said.
In his duties as a security guard, the high court said, Reetz was acting "in a purely private capacity" at the time he searched the bags.
Alex Chhith • 612-673-5749