Man who died in downtown St. Paul was held down by Church of Scientology employees after attempted robbery, police say

Pioneer Press, Minnesota/January 22, 2020

By Mara H. Gottfried

Before a 52-year-old man died, police say he attempted to rob a Church of Scientology employee who fought back and was joined by other workers to hold him down in downtown St. Paul.

Officers found the man unconscious and not breathing Monday night, and he was pronounced dead at Regions Hospital. The cause of his death remains under investigation.

Police were called to the parking ramp at about 7 p.m. Monday. It’s near 505 N. Wabasha St. — the Church of Scientology.

Witnesses reported the man, whose name hasn’t been released, tried to rob a 49-year-old Church of Scientology worker in an elevator lobby just before officers were called.

The man intimated to the worker he had a handgun — apparently by hiding his hand in his jacket — and demanded his valuables, said Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman.

“A significant struggle began between the decedent and the robbery victim,” Ernster said. “During this struggle, the robbery victim called out for help repeatedly, eventually getting the attention of other church employees who came out to help him.”

The fight may have lasted “five-plus minutes” before people heard him and responded, Ernster said. He didn’t know how many people were involved, but estimated it was five or less.

They “gained control of the robbery suspect and held him on the ground until police arrived,” Ernster said.

People from the church called police, “but there was some problems with calling 911” because they were inside the parking garage and had trouble getting an adequate signal on the cell phone, Ernster said. When police received the call, the department said officers were there in about two-and-a-half minutes.

Officers began chest compressions and called St. Paul fire paramedics, who transported the man to Regions. No gun was found, according to Ernster.

Police brought everyone involved to headquarters, where they were interviewed and released. No one was arrested and the incident is still under investigation.

The 49-year-old whom the man tried to rob sustained bruising and minor cuts to his face and hands — “typical injuries from a fight” — and later sought medical attention, Ernster said.

“This is a very traumatic situation for that victim who’s coming to work and wasn’t probably expecting to encounter something like this,” said Ernster, who described it as “an extended battle” and added, “I’m sure he’s lucky that he survived it and made it through it.”

Investigators will take all the facts they gather — from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s findings, to information from witnesses and surveillance video — and present them to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to determine whether charges should be filed.

A representative from the Church of Scientology did not respond to an inquiry from the Pioneer Press Tuesday.

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