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Charges: Pastor Impersonated Police Officer, Pepper-Sprayed Teenage Shoplifters

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A pastor in southern Minnesota is facing charges for pretending to be a police officer and pepper spraying a teenager he caught shoplifting.

Keith Douglas Haskell, 55, faces five counts of misdemeanor fifth degree assault, in addition to the charge or impersonating a peace officer and felony use of tear gas to immobilize.

"I think he got what he deserves," said Abraam Rodriguez, one of the teenagers at the center of the case.

Rodriguez said on Sept. 4, he and his cousin went to the Cash Wise grocery store. He admits his cousin shoplifted about $10 in snacks. In the documents, Haskell told officers he saw the teenagers grab cereal and fruit snacks without paying. He said he went outside to write down their license plate, then followed them when they left.

Keith Haskell
Keith Haskell (credit: Steele Co. Sheriff's Office)

Rodriquez said he pulled his SUV into a nearby apartment parking lot because he didn't want Haskell to know exactly where he lived.

According to the court documents, witnesses who live near the scene told investigators they could hear Haskell identifying himself out loud as a police officer and trying to pull the teenagers out of the SUV. Haskell is a pastor at Bridges of Hope Community Church.

"He's like, 'Put your hands up, put your hands up, I'm a cop. I need you to get out the vehicle,'" Rodriguez said.

In the documents, Rodriguez told officers his cousin swung at Haskell because the pastor aggressively pulled him out of the SUV. Haskell said he then pepper sprayed the teenager in self-defense.

When his cousin ran off, Rodriguez said he stayed put in the driver's seat.

"I thought he was a police officer, that's why I didn't do anything," Rodriguez said. "I'm not going to not follow orders of a cop."

In the documents, Rodriguez told investigators that Haskell took his car keys from him and tried to take his cell phone away. Rodriguez was on the phone with him mom to call for help when he said he was pulled out of the SUV by Haskell.

When his mother came outside, she told officers at the scene Haskell had her son pinned up against the SUV. In the documents, Haskell admitted to police he was holding a baton at the time. He told officers that he told the teens he was trying to make a citizen's arrest.

"I was actually pretty scared because if he was a cop and you see all those videos of cops, police brutality and stuff," Rodriguez said.

Police took a can of pepper spray and a baton as evidence. When asked for a comment, Haskell referred WCCO to his attorney, Chris Ritts, who released a statement saying: "The police investigation is absurd and flawed. My client was the victim. We will fight these allegations in the courts."

In the documents, Rodriguez's cousin later admitted to police he stole the snacks. Rodriguez understands it was a crime, however he wishes actual police got involved and not Haskell.

"If I were to be in his shoes or whatever, I wouldn't chase after people that stole candy from a store," Rodriguez said. "If he would have called the cops it would have been better. Like, if he would have just called them, they would have came and talked to us."

Haskell is due in court November 30.

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