WHITE BEAR TOWNSHIP, Minn. -- A retiree suing over his arrest in a supermarket had been warned before by store managers that he was helping himself to too many free samples, a defendant in the suit says.
Among the things a store manager had scolded Erwin Lingitz about: He had filled produce bags with up to 20 cookies from the "kids' cookie club tray," defendant Supervalu Inc. claims in its answer to the Gem Lake man's federal lawsuit. At the time of his arrest, documents claim, he had in his pockets almost 1.5 pounds of meat — beef stick and summer sausage — and more than a dozen packets of soy sauce.
Lingitz is suing Supervalu, Ramsey County, its sheriff's office, three deputies and a private security company over an April 2010 incident at a Cub Foods in White Bear Township, on the outskirts of Minneapolis.
The 68-year-old former laboratory machinist claims he was roughed up and his civil rights were violated by a security guard and then sheriff's deputies after he was confronted and accused of helping himself to too many free samples of lunch meat.
Lingitz sued in U.S. District Court last month, claiming that when he went into the supermarket to pick up a prescription, he stopped at a display offering free samples of lunch meat and helped himself.
He claims Cub employees told him he could take some to his wife, who was waiting in the couple's car.
As he left, a security guard confronted him; Lingitz protested and the fracas escalated. He eventually was arrested and jailed.
After the suit was filed, a spokesman for Supervalu said Lingitz violated "societal norms" by taking more than customers are expected to. In her answer, Supervalu attorney Robyn Johnson inventoried what she claims deputies found in the man's pockets after he was handcuffed.
"Plaintiff had approximately 14-16 packets of soy sauce along with one plastic produce bag containing 0.61 pounds for (sic) summer sausage and another plastic produce bag containing 0.85 pounds of beef stick in his pockets," she wrote. "Near the end of aisle 10 on the day in question, Cub Foods had two un-hosted sample platters, one containing beef stick and one containing summer sausage."
The lawyer wrote that Frank Patterson, a security guard for Twin City Lawmen Inc., which handles security at the store, saw Lingitz "putting items in his pockets," followed him out of the store and asked him to remove the items from his pockets. Lingitz refused.
Robert Gardner, the attorney representing Lingitz, did not immediately return a call for comment.
In her answer, Johnson wrote that store personnel had spoken to Lingitz "at various times," and that Steve Martin, a weekend manager, had seen the man "taking excessive amounts of food from various un-hosted sample platters and from the store's cookie club for kids."
"On these occasions, Mr. Martin observed plaintiff filling plastic produce bags with the samples or with 10-20 cookies from the kids' cookie club tray, which specifically limits the offer to one free cookie per child," Supervalu's response says.
"Mr. Martin told plaintiff that the samples were for everyone, that only one or two should be taken, that plaintiff should not fill bags with samples in the future and that the cookie club was for children only," Johnson wrote.
The company also denied "that store personnel regularly solicited plaintiff to take multiple samples."
On April 26, 2010, two days after the incident, Lingitz was charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with the officers and shoplifting.
A judge continued Lingitz's criminal case for dismissal in February 2011. Under terms of the agreement, if he remained law-abiding for a year, the charges would be dismissed. They were dismissed last year.