Congratulations are in order for Hastings police officer Rene Doffing, who was cleared of two charges of theft by a Dakota County jury last week.
Jurors unanimously concluded Doffing did not commit theft when he took a corkscrew from behind a Hastings bar and put it in his pocket.
To Mr. Doffing: Congratulations on winning your case, and congratulations on clearing your name.
We haven't been able to get inside the heads of the jurors in the case, but two parts of the trial stick out to us. We'd guess the jury got stuck on the same two points.
First, there was a point made by the defense was that to the best of their knowledge, nobody else who has stolen such a low-dollar item has been cited for theft in Hastings. That is not true, and we don't want residents here to go around thinking they can steal a bottle of Sobe water from Coborn's and not get cited.
Need proof? On April 27, 2012, a Hastings man was cited for theft after stealing $5.56 in Slim Jim beef jerky from M&H.
On Nov. 28, 2011, a Hastings man was cited after stealing a copy of the Hastings Star Gazette from a vehicle parked outside. The paper sells on newsstands for $1.25.
Lastly, there is not a distinction made in theft cases on whether or not the suspect left the place of business with the item or not. In Doffing's case, some people have argued that since he didn't leave the restaurant with the corkscrew, it wasn't theft.
Just two weeks ago, though, we wrote about a woman who was arrested for theft at Walmart. She had put a television in her shopping cart, pushed it past the checkout lanes and was stopped by security personnel before she even left the store.
Neither of these cases are perfectly analogous. We understand that. And none of this, absolutely none of it, should take anything away from Mr. Doffing. A jury of his peers found him not guilty.
Still, citations for low-dollar thefts are common in Hastings and you don't have to leave an establishment in order to have committed theft.