Around 11 a.m. on Sunday, Thomas Evertt Stein’s landlord came knocking. The 25-year-old Minnesota City man was late on his rent, he said.
There are any number of ways to respond to this situation, and many of them end peacefully. This encounter, however, began 17 hours of pure, unadulterated vitriol between one man and his landlord – a fight that included pepper spray and flying axes and no fewer than 20 calls to 911. And it started, according to a report to the Winona County Sheriff’s Department, when Stein responded to his landlord’s request for the rent by pushing him down the stairs.
Deputies cited Stein for fifth-degree assault and headed back to the office, probably thinking that the matter was settled. But later that day they got another call, this one from Stein.
He told them his apartment was on fire.
Emergency services rushed over and found no fire, no smoke – only Stein, who began to pepper them with questions about his rights. Just what was he entitled to as a renter? The deputy answered his questions, but told him not to call 911 for advice again. Don’t call, they said, unless there’s a real emergency.
Stein’s itchy fingers would dial again. He tried to convince dispatch that his landlord, who lived in an apartment in the same building, was an intruder. On another call, he complained that his landlord was sending dirty texts to his girlfriend (not a job for law enforcement, the dispatch operator said). He rang, again and again, with a litany of complaints. Dispatch repeatedly warned him about the misuse of 911 emergency calls.
Then around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Stein called and said his landlord had broken into his apartment and threatened him with a gun.
Deputies arrived, and immediately took stock of the scene. Stein’s windows were wide open. There was a circular saw sitting out in the yard, half-submerged in snow. And there was Stein himself, standing with his girlfriend, banging on the landlord’s windows, and yelling for him to “get out here and take [his] ass whoopin’.”
After leading the pair back to their apartment (the door was locked, but Stein valiantly kicked it open) the deputy visited the landlord to hear his side of the story. No, the landlord said, he hadn’t broken into Stein’s apartment, and no, he hadn’t threatened him with a gun. Then, before they could go much further, they were interrupted by a loud crash: A vacuum cleaner sailed out of Stein’s apartment and clattered to the snowy ground.
The vacuum cleaner, as it turns out, was only a prelude. Moments later, something whizzed past the deputy’s head, blew through the carport and embedded itself into a nearby “decorative piece of wood,” as described by the report. Upon further investigation, the deputy found out the object that had nearly brained him had been an axe.
Purely an accident, Stein explained when pressed. He’d slipped on the ice and it had flown out of his hand, that’s all.
After a brief back-and-forth over whether an ambulance would be required for Stein’s supposed ice-related injuries, the deputies headed out, no doubt thinking – or maybe just hoping – they’d heard the last of Stein and his landlord for the evening.
But then came the 20th and final 911 call, about 10 minutes later. Stein told them his landlord had thrown acid into his eyes.
Sheriff’s deputies hurried to the scene to find Stein and his girlfriend lying on the ground outside the landlord’s apartment, “gagging and wheezing,” according to a report by the Winona Daily News. The culprit didn’t seem to be acid, according to the sheriff’s department. By the smell and the tang in the air, the deputies thought the two of them were probably hit by a healthy dose of pepper spray.
According to the landlord, this is what happened:
He’d been awakened by a loud clanging against his windows. There were Stein and his girlfriend, banging against the glass with a “metal object.” They were yelling at him to turn their water back on. The landlord’s door was shut with a swing bar latch, but all that banging allegedly jostled it loose, and Stein came careening in.
The landlord said Stein had something in his hand – a little aerosol can, by the looks of it. There wasn’t much time to look, before Stein allegedly grabbed the landlord by the face, knocking off his glasses so they fell to the ground and popped out a lens. Then, the landlord said, Stein reared back and hit him with a big old gob of spit.
The landlord acted fast. He grabbed a nearby glass and chucked its contents into Stein’s face. The attacker staggered backwards, surprised, blinking, and the landlord managed to slam the deadbolt in place. But the glass had been filled with water, he said – not acid. A deputy picked it up and gave it a whiff. It certainly didn’t smell like acid.
The landlord had no explanation for how Stein and his girlfriend were pepper sprayed. Deputies found no trace of the stuff inside. The report didn’t say whether the little aerosol can the landlord mentioned had contained the offending substance, or whether Stein had perhaps sprayed himself.
One thing was clear: Stein was under arrest. According to the complaint, he admitted to the deputies that he should have just “left it alone,” that he hadn’t been making very good decisions that night.
If the complaint and 911 transcripts suggest anything, it’s that Stein had plenty of chances to make some better decisions. Every 911 call was a decision to take it up a notch, push it further, get the authorities involved. Arguably, that fateful shove on Saturday morning had been the beginning of nothing but bad choices for 17 hours, all of them documented in vivid detail.
Stein has been released from jail on the condition that he have no contact with his landlord and that he not trespass on his landlord’s property. He has been charged with first- and second-degree burglary and his next court date is Dec. 13.