Doffing trial: Three witnesses were called on Tuesday afternoonFollowing opening statements on Tuesday, three witnesses were called by the prosecution in Rene Doffing's theft case.
By: Chad Richardson, The Hastings Star-Gazette
Following opening statements on Tuesday, three witnesses were called by the prosecution.
The first witness called by the prosecution was Dakota County Deputy Bryce Schuenke, the man who saw Doffing pick up the bottle opener and put it into his pocket.
Schuenke was hired by the county in January 2010. He had previously acted as a loss prevention officer with the Mills Fleet Farm store near St. Cloud. He had also served as a reserve officer in another city.
Schuenke testified that he was trained extensively by Fleet Farm in behavior patterns exhibited by people who are about to commit theft.
He testified that he had moved to Hastings and would go to the Green Mill between one to two times a week to have dinner and a drink after work. He found himself seated at the bar by himself Nov. 22, 2010. He was seated with his back to the kitchen and could see people come in and out of the restaurant. He was in plain clothes at the time.
He saw a few officers he knew come into the restaurant, including some in plain clothes and others in uniform.
He then saw a man he did not recognize come into the restaurant with a teenage boy.
The man, he said, approached the bartender and ordered a soda. Between the two of them were three to four barstools. As the bartender poured the drink, Schuenke observed Doffing reach across the bar and into a bucket. The bucket was behind the bar and was sitting on top of a cooler.
Schuenke saw Doffing pull out a corkscrew, open it and examine it. Schuenke said Doffing then cupped the opener in his hand where it was “concealed” and he put it into his pocket. Doffing’s drink arrived and he walked away.
Schuenke then asked the bartender if he was missing a corkscrew, and he determined he was.
Schuenke said he asked the bartender if he wanted him to summon an officer to talk about the activity, and the bartender said “Yes.”
The officers had gathered in the conference or meeting room at the Green Mill, and Schuenke walked in the room. He saw one officer he knew, David Bauer, and he approached Bauer. Since officer Bauer was in plain clothes, Schuenke asked Bauer who he could talk to, and Bauer pointed to a few officers who had uniforms on.
Schuenke approached the officers and said he wanted to report a theft. He began to explain the story, and then Doffing spoke up, reached into his pocket and produced the opener.
“I have it right here,” Doffing said.
When Schuenke learned the man who had taken the opener was a police officer, he said he was “flushed with embarrassment.”
Schuenke then left the room, he said.
During a cross examination, Engh asked Schuenke if he ever saw Doffing attempt to leave the restaurant with the corkscrew. Schuenke said he didn’t.
Engh asked Schuenke if he was aware that Doffing knows one of the owners of the Green Mill here, and Schuenke said he wasn’t aware of that.
Engh also told Schuenke that Doffing gives away similar items at his bar in Vermillion.
Bernard, the prosecutor, got another opportunity to ask questions of Schuenke and did so. Schuenke then testified that he saw Doffing look left and look right before putting the opener into his pocket.
The second witness who was called was Michelle Morfin-Brashier, a manager at the restaurant on the night of the incident.
She said the restaurant was selling more wine than normal because of the promotion, and that bottle openers were getting hard to come by. She learned that a patron, later identified as Doffing, had taken one from the bar area. She eventually approached him and asked for it back.
It was sitting under the lip of his dinner plate. He reached around to the back of the plate and gave it to her.
She estimated that about 30 to 40 minutes had elapsed from when she heard about Doffing taking the opener and when she recovered it from him.
During a cross examination, Engh asked Morfin-Brashier if she knew where all the other corkscrews had gone. She had testified during a hearing in January that the restaurant had about 10 openers a week before the incident. She said sometimes staff members leave the restaurant with openers still in their aprons.
That prompted Engh to later ask:
“These things can be taken away for innocent reasons?”
“Yes sir,” Morfin-Brashier answered.
The third and final witness called on Tuesday afternoon was the bartender that night, Todd O’Halloran.
O’Halloran testified he didn’t know who Doffing was when he entered the bar.
He testified that Schuenke, the deputy, asked him if he was missing a bottle opener after getting the soda for Doffing. He remembers looking into a silver bucket behind the bar and determining that one had gone missing. Eventually, he sought out a manager and asked her to go get it back from a patron in the meeting room.
Within 20 to 30 minutes, the manager had returned with the opener, he said.
O’Halloran said neither he nor the restaurant pressed any charges against Doffing. Only weeks later did he learn an investigation was under way.
O’Halloran, during cross-examination, said that the openers are typically provided by vendors for free.
That concluded testimony on Tuesday, and jurors were sent home for the night.