Minn. officer with rocky past fights to keep his job
By Frederick Melo
HASTINGS, Minn. - Rene Doffing once delivered life-saving CPR to a 2-month-old baby. Another time, gun in hand, he helped subdue a suicidal man.
While chasing a suspect inside a house, he literally kicked in the door on a large marijuana operation. Police later learned the property was ringed by homemade bombs.
Those quick-draw impulses earned the Hastings police officer written commendations for daredevil work.
But other times, they've landed the patrol cop and one-time candidate for Dakota County sheriff in trouble.
According to reports, Doffing, 44, was once suspended for five days after wrestling a 16-year-old to the ground and threatening to kill him without ever identifying himself as a police officer.
Over the years, a city engineer, a concessions stand worker and even a police sergeant found themselves on the receiving end of his temper.
On March 26, his anger might have gotten him fired.
He could learn by month's end whether he will be allowed to keep his job.
On March 27, the police department placed him on paid leave, citing his conduct during a police matter the previous day and in the subsequent investigation.
Full details of the March 26 incident have not been disclosed. But the police administration, the mayor, and the three-citizen Hastings Police Civil Service Commission all recommended Doffing be stripped of his badge.
His last paid day was May 18.
Details Of Incident Undisclosed
Asked by a reporter to produce all of Doffing's March 26 log entries and incident reports, Hastings City Attorney Dan Fluegel said he was able to share copies of all but one, because that incident was still under investigation.
But Fluegel provided a brief narrative of the incident: At 2:21 a.m., police called an ambulance to 17th and Vermillion Street to pick up a Wisconsin man. The man had been on foot when he was pursued by Doffing and a police sergeant. He was taken to Regina Hospital and treated for minor injuries.
The city, through its insurance carrier the League of Minnesota Cities, continues to pay the man's medical bills.
Reached by phone, the man declined to be interviewed. Neither Doffing nor his attorney returned calls seeking comment.
The incident was investigated by the Minnesota State Patrol and referred to the Dakota County attorney's office, which in turn forwarded it to Olmsted County, where it is still under review for possible charges.
In May, Doffing and an attorney hired through the police union demanded that his termination be reviewed by an arbitrator. Legal briefings were due to the arbitrator Friday, whose binding decision on how and whether to discipline Doffing is expected within 30 days.
A detailed account of the incident will be made public only if the arbitrator chooses to discipline him.
The unusual situation has created buzz in Hastings, where police firings are rare. The last time an officer was removed from duty was likely in the 1970s, said Police Chief Michael McMenomy. Another officer resigned seven years ago following a felony conviction.
At 5 foot 10 inches and 350 pounds, Doffing, a 13-year member of the police force, can be an intimidating sight.
Gerry Wuollet, a former Hastings police sergeant, worked with him for six years as one of his supervisors. He recalled that Doffing, the son of a city employee, had been a cook at the Bierstube Restaurant in Hastings before becoming a police officer in 1994.
"He was a real animated, a real talkative guy," Wuollet said. "He was enthusiastic about his job."
But when Doffing announced last year that he planned to run for the seat held by Sheriff Don Gudmundson - a former Mafia detective in Chicago - even Wuollet saw Doffing's political bid as a lark.
"That was really bizarre," Wuollet said. "I don't know why he would do that."
Doffing, who refused to debate Gudmundson during the campaign, received 26 percent of the vote and was soundly defeated across the county, even in eight Hastings precincts.
A Checkered Past
Shortly after Doffing was hired in 1994, the department suspended him for five days without pay for allegedly knocking a 16-year-old boy to the ground and telling him he could kill him. According to police records, he never identified himself as an officer in the incident, which started when the boy's younger brother lobbed a tennis ball across the street, striking Doffing's car.
In November 2001, when the city performed landscaping work in his yard, he yelled so long and hard at a city engineer that the police chief issued him a written reprimand and asked him to seek counseling.
On June 15, 2005, during an argument with a police sergeant, Doffing threw a stapler so hard against a metal bin that the stapler broke and the bin dented. Doffing, according to a police memo, had held off against driving a lost dog to an animal hospital in Rosemount until the end of his shift, and then tried to reassign the task to another officer.
On Dec. 5, 2006, while on duty and dressed in full uniform, Doffing went to the Hastings Civic Arena and berated a concessions worker for two or three minutes in front of her customers and co-workers, accusing her of harassing his daughter, according to police records.
He was suspended for a day without pay and referred for counseling with a police chaplain.
Copyright 2007 St. Paul Pioneer Press
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