Charges: Pastor Keith Haskell faked being a cop, pepper-sprayed teen shoplifter

Owatonna pastor Keith Haskell's attorney says actually he's the victim here.

Owatonna pastor Keith Haskell's attorney says actually he's the victim here. Steel County

What would Jesus do to a teenage shoplifter?

Probably not what Keith Haskell is accused of doing. Haskell, 55, and a pastor at Bridges of Hope Community Church in Owatonna, faces numerous criminal charges for his ham-fisted attempt at vigilante justice against two criminals. 

The perps in question? Two teenage boys, one of whom was trying to shoplift $10 worth of snacks from a Cash Wise grocery store.  

The incident occurred on September 4, WCCO reports, when Haskell spotted the shoplifter pocket "cereal and fruit snacks without paying." According to the Steele County Attorney criminal complaint against Haskell, the pastor went out to the parking lot to take down the license plate of the teens' vehicle.

Haskell also followed the teenagers, who pulled into the parking lot of an apartment building, at which point Haskell approached, identified himself as a police officer, and told them to put their hands up. According to Abraam Rodriguez, one of the two boys involved, Haskell roughly grabbed for his cousin, the one who'd stolen the snacks. 

The boy took a swing at Haskell, who responded by pepper-spraying him before he ran off. Haskell says he used the pepper-spray in self defense, but he's facing a charge of unlawfully using of tear gas, a felony.

By that time, Rodriguez had used his cellphone called his mom for help. When she arrived, she found Haskell, who was holding a baton, had pinned Abraam against his SUV. Haskell would later tell police he was merely trying to execute a citizen's arrest of the teenager. 

Rodriguez, for his part, says he wishes Haskell had done the easier thing and called the actual cops.

“If I were to be in his shoes or whatever, I wouldn’t chase after people that stole candy from a store,” Rodriguez told WCCO.

Haskell faces five counts of misdemeanor assault, one of impersonating a peace officer, plus the felony tear gas charge. Haskell is due in court November 30. His defense attorney Chris Ritts told the station the charges have the whole situation flipped around.

“The police investigation is absurd and flawed," Ritts says. "My client was the victim."