Couple Arrested, Lose Kid for 18 Hours Over a $5 Sandwich

Monday, October 31st, 2011

At some point you’d think someone—the store manager, the cops, a police supervisor—would have applied some perspective, here.

A Hawaii couple’s 3-year-old daughter was taken away from them for 18 hours after they were arrested for forgetting to a pay for two $5 sandwiches.

“This is unreal this could happen to a family like ours,” Nicole Leszczynski told Hawaii’s KHON.

The outing-turned-nightmare happened Wednesday while the family was shopping at a local Safeway.

“We walked a long way to the grocery store and I was feeling faint, dizzy, like I needed to eat something so we decided to pick up some sandwiches and eat them while we were shopping,” Leszczynski told the news station.

Leszczynski, who is 30-weeks pregnant, her husband, Marcin, and daughter Zophia bought $50 worth of groceries — but forgot about their two chicken salad sandwiches.

“It was a complete distraction, distracted parent moment,” Leszczynski told KHON.

As the family left, they were stopped by store security, who asked for their receipt.

“I offered to pay, we had the cash. We just bought the groceries,” Leszczynski told the station.

Instead, the expectant mother told KHON that the Safeway manager called police. They were taken to the main Honolulu police station where they were booked for fourth degree theft. Then Zophia was taken into custody by Child Protective Services.

“When they notified us that they would have to take her because we both would be arrested, I just couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe this was happening, because I forgot to pay for the sandwich and that she’s never been away from us this long,” Leszczynski told KHON.

Safeway seems to have finally gotten its act together. Sort of.

A day later, Safeway issued an additional statement, saying that there may have been a mistake.

“It appears we may not have handled this matter in the best possible way and we are taking the situation seriously,” the store said.

The couple says the never intended to steal the sandwich, and that they plan to argue against the charges when they appear in court in November.


Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

92 Responses to “Couple Arrested, Lose Kid for 18 Hours Over a $5 Sandwich”

  1. #1 |  Bee | 

    #32 – I’ve inadvertently “shoplifted” multiple times at Target. The carts are not the wire carts you often see at the grocery store – they are very thick red plastic that can obscure one’s view of items on the rack underneath. I have made it to the car at least half a dozen times with kitty litter or those big boxes of soda pop on the rack underneath, without intending to steal. Of course I go right back in and pay for them.

    So, at least some people who “shoplift” are absent-minded mad scientist types.

  2. #2 |  Jerry | 

    My GF and I quite frequently drink a bottle of water or juice while we are walking around a grocery store and then pay for it as we leave. Don’t think I ever forgot to pay, but if I did, i don’t think it would warrant being arrested.

  3. #3 |  StrangeOne | 

    Im going to go out on a limb here and say they were stealling the sandwhiches, and so what? Shrinkage is ingrained in most retailers to the point that Walmart won’t prosecute for anything less than $20 and most stores don’t even keep “loss prevention specialists” on staff because they can’t prevent enough theft to justify their own salaries. And lets not forget that the vasy majority of shrink comes from employees, not customers. Low margins don’t matter because buisness with low margins make up for it with volume, either way you slice it the Safeway ain’t going out of business because of a few sandwhiches.

    Maybe the manager was overzelous or inexperienced and decided to grill the couple instead of looking for simpler resolutions. Every retailer I’ve ever worked with would have taken the offer to pay for the sandwhiches, maybe considered banning them from the store based on the custmers history. Calling the police and filling charges is a pain in the ass, reasonable managers aren’t going to create more work for themselves over $10 of groceries, there has to be something more to it either on the managers end or with the couple.

    On the other end maybe the couple were repeat offenders, the staff knew they took stuff or grazed, but without meeting the fairly strick requirements for observing shoplifters for filling charges they couldn’t do anything about it. This may have just been the first time the family got stopped for their “forgetfullness” and the manager decided to do the most he could for this one instance because he couldn’t do anything about all the others he couldn’t prove. Stuff like that happens in retail all the time, certain “customers” become notorious for trying to sneak things out, or cut deals, or fake coupons, or pretend some unnamed manager promised them a discount.

    But no matter how the situation is resolved between the Safeway and the family, there is no doubt that the involvement of CPS was a terribly unjustified call on the part of the police. No children were in need of protection from anything.

  4. #4 |  PeeDub | 

    A lot of y’all are some cold ass bitches.

  5. #5 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    I’ve forgotten to pay for stuff and walked out. Sometimes they say “Sir, you forgot to pay for that thing” or I remember and go back and pay.

    If I tell them to “fuck off!”, I have just stolen.

    Safeway Manager sets new record for the least amount of power going to someone’s head.

  6. #6 |  Brandon | 

    “if you arrest the kids in baggy pants but let ditzy soccer moms go, it’s only a matter of time before DoJ descends on you with a civil-rights investigation (and frankly: rightly so).”

    Seriously? Do you think that “kids in baggy pants” are a protected class, or is this just knee-jerk political correctness? Owners of private property can exercise discretion in who they decide to prosecute for crimes against their property.

  7. #7 |  Rob Lyman | 

    Owners of private property can exercise discretion in who they decide to prosecute for crimes against their property.

    Sure, and the Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. But there are lawyers who make a nice living out of hassling companies with it even so.

  8. #8 |  ellsworth | 

    This is the type of story that nicely shows the divide between “conservatarians” and libertarians.

  9. #9 |  Kid Handsome | 

    Are they alleging conspiracy? Why couldn’t they have arrested just one parent and let the other one stay with the kid. Presumably, only one parent paid for the groceries and, assuming the worst, did not pay for the sandwiches. That parent should be arrested. The other should have been free to go with the child. They should have just made them pay. There is no way they’ll be able to prove intent (still an element of the crime) unless they have some evidence other than what is stated in the article.

  10. #10 |  SamK | 

    Eh, I used to steal shit like that all the time as a teenager. It’s so easy I sometimes forget when something is still in my hands and I walk out without paying for it even now that I’m grown and have no intention to steal (yes, I was *that* teenager). The problem I have here isn’t that the couple were caught and charged with shoplifting, it’s that they’ve had their kid taken by CPS. If you’re stealing (“oops” or otherwise) and you get caught it’s on the victim (Safeway) to decide whether to prosecute. I’m ok with that. Safeway made a fool of themselves by prosecuting, but they may have been right. Whatever. Having criminal penalties beyond restitution + $100 like it was in my day and making it anything more than a misdemeanor or even a simple fineable offense like speeding is excessive. Taking the kid is beyond excessive, it’s a call to arms. I don’t care if they’re both lying, cheating, stealing SOB’s, CPS needs to back the flip off.

  11. #11 |  Joshua Grigonis | 

    I went to Safeway one time and got charged twice for my breakfast sausages. I demand that the cashier, the manager and everyone involved be arrested and their children given over to CPS.

  12. #12 |  Terry | 

    Way back, I took my oldest shopping (about 4 at the time–won’t mention his name but it’s well known to all). I had bought a shirt which was in a large bag, my son wanted to carry the bag so I let him. When we got back into the mall he said the bag was too heavy so I took it and it was heavy—he’d unloaded a wallet display into the bag. I went back and went to the first clerk I could find–they though it was funny, but if they’d caught me leaving——–

  13. #13 |  Bill Roberts | 

    I’m going to be called a dick, but I don’t have any problem with this. The couple stole two sandwiches and got caught, in a grocery store that has the policy of prosecuting all shoplifters. The article didn’t say, but I’d be willing to bet the officer asked the couple if there was anyone else who could come and take care of their child, and the couple told him no.

    When you commit larceny, you should be prepared to pay the price. And if you’re dumb enough to commit a crime with your toddler with you, I have absolutely no sympathy for you at all.

  14. #14 |  Not Sure | 

    More than once (and definitely more often than I have accidentally not paid for something), I have gotten home to find that an item on my receipt was not put in my bag. Should I call the cops next time?

    Just wondering…

  15. #15 |  buzz | 

    I would suggest the libertarian approach to this story. Buy your own grocery store and if you catch someone take something without paying for it, let them pay for it then. The manager here was probably trying to control losses at his store which effects his compensation. Crazy that. Everyone looks at it as its a $5 sandwich. How many $5 losses will you accept before it starts to add up? And you think people that dress nice and bring kids don’t grift? The manager should have just known? And you have issues with the mother essentially saying the same thing?

  16. #16 |  Leah | 

    #41 Maria “We’ve allowed ourselves to become these petty, little authoritarians who have no idea how to deal with other human beings without an authorized intermediary. And the authoritarian bureaucracy LOVES it.”

    Precisely. I’m flabbergasted that this story got such an pro-authoritarian response. Perhaps that’s because I do most of my shopping with a 5, 2, and 1 year old in tow, but even beyond whether or not they meant to steal – this is a ridiculously excessive response. It reminds me of when people start talking up Singapore’s stance on drug use. It’s compassionless and not what I expect to find at this site, honestly.

  17. #17 |  Fascist Nation | 

    Hey, it wasn’t just a $5 sandwich. It was TWO $5 sandwiches! The authorities should take their cars and house away too. And seize their bank accounts. That will teach them! … about the $tate.

  18. #18 |  BamBam | 

    The best way for people to learn about the evils of this thing called The State is to have it happen to them. It’s what occurs AFTER this that has a lot of value — belief in The State remains, or one starts down the road to contemplating everything they ever believed and stop enslaving themselves in their mind.

  19. #19 |  Mike T | 

    #56

    Seriously? Do you think that “kids in baggy pants” are a protected class, or is this just knee-jerk political correctness? Owners of private property can exercise discretion in who they decide to prosecute for crimes against their property.

    It is my understanding that middle class (especially middle age) white women are actually some of the worst offenders. As bad or worse than poor black men if you are comparing groups. So yes, failing to punish them would result in a possible lawsuit because they’re so similar.

  20. #20 |  MH | 

    “More than once (and definitely more often than I have accidentally not paid for something), I have gotten home to find that an item on my receipt was not put in my bag. Should I call the cops next time?”

    A lot of people are bringing up innocent mistakes like this, and I agree innocent mistakes should be forgivable (by either the clerk or the customer). They do not need to involve the police.

    But when you eat food while in the grocery store, you’re _choosing_ to consume what you know you haven’t paid for. You’re just counting on the store to be magnanimous about it. So you had _better_ come up with a plan to pay for it.

    See, it’s easy to be honest by default at the checkout counter. Everything is in plain sight, and you just unload whatever’s in the cart. Once you’ve eaten food, you have to make a little special effort to alert the clerk as to what you consumed. The clerk doesn’t know some plastic wrapper in the bottom of the cart needs to be rung up, or doesn’t know about the empty coke bottle you left in Aisle 6. If you don’t say anything, you might just get away with it.

    So you’ve set yourself up for a little moral test. It’s more like returning found money that way: a little more effort is required than just going through the ritual at the checkout counter. And it seems to me if you set yourself up for a moral test that you didn’t have to, and then you fail to pass that test, you probably didn’t really intend to pass it in the first place.

  21. #21 |  2nd of 3 | 

    “And 2nd of 3, shoplifters will pay for a $.50 pack of gum and steal a $50 video game, not the other way around.”

    LOL – True of some shoplifters, sure, but if you believe that’s how all operate you are mistaken. I’ve know tons of “upstanding” people who have no problem stealing a pack of gum while buying the $50 game. Heck, I’ve known plenty of these same people brag about what they “got away with” from a store.

    “Well that’s the important part, right? We can’t let this epidemic of sandwich stealing get out of control, if we just charge people what the sandwich costs when the person is caught then we’ll have an attitude of “free food!” among all Safeway customers. We just can’t take a chance on a slippery slope like that.”

    Well…no, they can’t take that chance in many cases. They are running a business, not a soup kitchen. Enough sandwiches go out the door, and eventually either they have to raise prices on everything else or they go out of business when the store down the street with better security is able to keep it’s own wastage (and therefore prices) low. I thought you libertarians were all about property rights? Should Safeway have the right to prosecute theives?

    And again, I agree it was an over reaction, I just think it was an understandable one.

  22. #22 |  Cathryn | 

    I have seen the shoppers idiocy too many times in my life. People seem to think “It’s ok. I’ll pay for it at the checkout.” REGARDLESS of your intentions, if you have not yet paid for that sandwich, soda, or whatever; guess what, Skippy? It’s NOT yours. By eating it before it is paid for, you are, in point of legal fact, committing theft.
    My ex had a habit of doing this with soda all the time. The worthless sod would grab a soda right off the shelf and crack it open, with people all around staring.
    I tried explaining to my ex many times, this concept, that if you have not paid for it it is not yours and thus you are stealing. My ex would not listen, and eventually, one day we got thrown out of the grocery store for my ex’s stupidity. I was told by the store manager and security that day that we were “damned lucky they did not call the police.”
    In this particular case, I think the store went a little too far, and the police were (as usual) way out of line. However, the couple is certainly not blameless, either. Hopefully they have learned and will not engage in this kind of stupidity. After all, as Americans, it is their job to go on to bigger, better forms of stupidity.

  23. #23 |  Charlie O | 

    Bill Roberts,

    You’re right, you are a dick.

  24. #24 |  MH | 

    “I tried explaining to my ex many times, this concept, that if you have not paid for it it is not yours and thus you are stealing.”

    Your ex was a fool. Nothing sexier than a woman with a firm grasp of property rights. :-)

  25. #25 |  Bob | 

    I commented early on in this, but then stepped back for a day to let my thoughts gel.

    Basically, they went to the store and stole sandwiches, then were shocked when they were caught. They could have gotten lucky and not had the police called, but for whatever reason the manager brought in the cops, probably because he thought they were lying to his face.

    The moral of the story? Pay for your food before you eat it. Duh. And if you can’t control your wild eating urges then don’t be a douchebag and try to get away with it by tossing the evidence.

    That said… what SHOULD be the proper response by the store manager and the police?

    On one hand, the most cost effective way for the store to handle it is call the cops and have the perps hauled off. It’s draconian, but it’s on someone else’s dime. Why should Safeway bear the cost? They have no incentive to help thieves be more socially responsible. Steering them to another store to be THEIR problem makes more sense.

    On the other hand, arresting people for piddly shit like this is draconian. Is there a better way to deal with these people? The knee jerk reaction is yes. Check for priors, and if it’s a first offense, or a sufficiently piddly offense, write them a citation.

    That seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Sure, until you realize that you’re giving a lot of tickets to “Joe Blow” and other made up names. The officer trying to decide whether to give you a citation or arrest you has no way to determine your identity unless you are honest about it. And let’s face it… you’ve already shown that card by stealing sandwiches.

    Issuing citations only work on either the honest or those forced to show ID (Like while operating a motor vehicle.) And so, we’re back to square one.

  26. #26 |  Rob Lyman | 

    Issuing citations only work on either the honest or those forced to show ID (Like while operating a motor vehicle.)

    If you’ve committed a crime, the cops have every right to demand you show your ID so that they can issue the citation to the proper person. If you can’t or won’t, they probably will choose arrest over citation, so they can at least get a set of fingerprints.

  27. #27 |  Nick T. | 

    “By eating it before it is paid for, you are, in point of legal fact, committing theft.”

    That’s simply not accurate as a “point of legal fact.” Theft requires intent. If your intention is to pay for it in the immediate future you have not committed theft. Similarly, if you walk out of an airport with someone else’s bag fully belieiving it to be yours, or if you drive off in a car you have “purchased” from a seller based on your genuine promise to put a check in the mail the next day, you have not committed the crime of theft *in that moment* even if you later do not return the bag or mail the check.

    Bill Roberts, your reasoning is pretty ridiculous. You seem to be saying that if you do something stupid then the authorities are justified in punishing you any way they choose because you should have known better. This is the basic reasoning of all tyrants: As long as the rules are clear, the penalty is justified. It also seems to be the battle-cry of police abuse, “well, yelling at a cop has consequences, so don’t be surprised when they pepper spray you, and throw you in jail, dumbass!”

    People’s choices can never be so dumb that they absolve others of responsibility for their own actions in response. The child in this case was almost certainly traumatized and harmed by being taken away, and responsibility for THAT choice falls on CPS.

  28. #28 |  Bob | 

    #76 | Rob Lyman

    Issuing citations only work on either the honest or those forced to show ID (Like while operating a motor vehicle.)

    If you’ve committed a crime, the cops have every right to demand you show your ID so that they can issue the citation to the proper person. If you can’t or won’t, they probably will choose arrest over citation, so they can at least get a set of fingerprints.

    Which ID? The one you don’t have to carry because you live in a free country? That ID?

    See how circular this is?

    Let’s go back and complete the loop!

    Honest people will pull out their ID so they can avoid arrest.

    However, honest people don’t steal sandwiches from Safeway.

    But wait! Won’t dishonest people want to avoid arrest?

    Arrest for what? Not producing an ID?

    No, arrested for stealing!

    But I thought it was a citation offense.

    You can’t arrest someone for not having an ID. You have no probably cause that they’re lying about not having one. And you can’t search them without probable cause. Since you can’t arrest someone for a citation only offense, you have to take their word for it when they tell you their name is Joe Blow.

    Unless… you make stealing an arrestable offense,

    At which point arrest becomes SOP.

  29. #29 |  Rob Lyman | 

    Bob, I’m fuzzy on your point. Theft isn’t usually a citation only offense; my position is that citation is preferable to arrest if such a thing is possible. And even “citation only” offenses can result in arrest; the recent Brooks case found excessive force in using a Taser on a woman who refused to exit her car to be arrested for failure to sign a ticket. However, the 9th Circuit didn’t find that she shouldn’t have been arrested (she was doing 31 in a school zone: not even a misdemeanor), but rather than she shouldn’t have been zapped as part of the arrest.

    So yeah. Show your ID and get cited for theft, or don’t show it and get arrested for theft. Not particularly tricky.

  30. #30 |  plutosdad | 

    My S.O. does this while shopping all the time. We do remember to pay. I find it kind of embarrassing that she can’t wait to eat till we are done, but meh. Though now I’d hate to see what would happen if she forgets when I’m not there.

    I read about a similar incident at a hardware store in Chicago. A contractor marked off some lengths of lumber and put the carpenter’s pencil behind his ear, then paid for the lumber. Security called the police for stealing the pencil. He said he just forgot.

    But unlike this story, the police did not arrest him and let him go. Of course, there could be a racial component to that, white middle class guy said “it was a mistake” and they believe him, not so well off brown skinned person says the same and is not believed.

  31. #31 |  Bob | 

    Rob Lyman:

    My point was that theft isn’t a citation only offense BECAUSE you don’t have to carry ID. The example of making it citation only was to support my point.

    Radley’s point was “Gosh! These people shouldn’t have been arrested over 10 bucks worth of sandwiches because of teh children”

    i merely pointed out that that really wasn’t much of an option in a society where you don’t have to positively identify yourself.

    It’s like swearing to tell the truth in court… Does that mean you cannot lie, or does that mean others have to believe you?

  32. #32 |  plutosdad | 

    Also I’ve found things left in the cart and went back in line to pay, it happened just 2 weeks ago. If I didn’t see it before we got to the doors, would I have been arrested too? geez.

    And one reason people would eat before paying: if they pay for it then walk around eating, when they get back in line someone will try to arrest them for stealing anyway. I lose receipts all the time, I generally throw them right out. Better to pay at the end before walking out, then it’s on the big receipt with everything else.

  33. #33 |  Bob | 

    #80 | plutosdad

    My S.O. does this while shopping all the time. We do remember to pay. I find it kind of embarrassing that she can’t wait to eat till we are done, but meh. Though now I’d hate to see what would happen if she forgets when I’m not there.

    I read about a similar incident at a hardware store in Chicago. A contractor marked off some lengths of lumber and put the carpenter’s pencil behind his ear, then paid for the lumber. Security called the police for stealing the pencil. He said he just forgot.

    But unlike this story, the police did not arrest him and let him go. Of course, there could be a racial component to that, white middle class guy said “it was a mistake” and they believe him, not so well off brown skinned person says the same and is not believed.

    “Remembering to pay” is easy. Just don’t ditch the evidence.

    If the middle class white guy stuck the pencil in his shorts, that would have been different. But behind the ear? Easy mistake.

    Eating food in the Supermarket and then ditching the evidence? Theft. Bringing the wrapper to checkout to pay? Obvious evidence of self control issues, but not theft.

    I don’t see why this is so hard to figure out.

  34. #34 |  Rob Lyman | 

    Bob: OK, I get it now. My point is that the police usually have the discretion to issue a citation for minor stuff like this, and this is precisely the time to use that discretion unless there is some countervailing reason not to (priors, no ID).

  35. #35 |  Bob | 

    #84 | Rob Lyman

    Bob: OK, I get it now. My point is that the police usually have the discretion to issue a citation for minor stuff like this, and this is precisely the time to use that discretion unless there is some countervailing reason not to (priors, no ID).

    Exactly! And since carrying an ID can’t be made illegal, the discretion to cite rather than arrest erodes away.

    If I steal sandwiches, and a cop has the option to arrest or cite, that frees me to use the “Violating my civil liberties” defense if the cop decides to arrest because I wasn’t carrying ID.

  36. #36 |  Rob Lyman | 

    Technically, you’re free to use that “defense” whenever you like, it’s just that you’ll lose. But that’s no reason to feel bad, because everyone gets a ribbon for participating.

  37. #37 |  JOR | 

    Motives are irrelevant. Nobody has a claim on anyone else’s mind; punishment itself is stupid and morally questionable, and if motives were punishable, everyone would probably have to be executed. Whether they intended to steal or not, down in their hearts, what matters in the end was whether they paid for what they took. Given their willingness to do so, arrest was uncalled for. And even if they hadn’t been willing, the proper thing to do would just be to fine them the $10 (maybe with an additional fee for the trouble of catching them or whatever).

  38. #38 |  Bill Roberts | 

    Bill Roberts, your reasoning is pretty ridiculous. You seem to be saying that if you do something stupid then the authorities are justified in punishing you any way they choose because you should have known better. This is the basic reasoning of all tyrants: As long as the rules are clear, the penalty is justified. It also seems to be the battle-cry of police abuse, “well, yelling at a cop has consequences, so don’t be surprised when they pepper spray you, and throw you in jail, dumbass!”

    No, I’m saying if youre dumb enough to steal from someone and get caught, then you deserve to be punished.

  39. #39 |  Nick T. | 

    Bill Roberts, By having your child removed? That’s not punishment. Are you confused in thinking that child removal is to punish the parents?

    Would it be ok to be punished with, say, a year in prison? Cuz part of what people are debating here is whether the government response was excessive. “You have to be ready to pay the price” is an argument that it was not, in this case or in any case so long as the person is dumb enough to steal.

    JOR, motives are relevant under the law. Motives by themselves are not punishable. Criminal culpability requires intent and an act. This has been true under the law for several hundred years.

  40. #40 |  lhfree | 

    I agree with comment #4.

    People rely way too much on police and courts. The security guard should’ve just guided them back to the checkout when he confronted them and/or they volunteered to pay for the sandwiches. Or, the guard should’ve gotten the manager who should’ve walked them to a cash register.

    That’s it. No need for police or charges or child protective bureauweenies.

  41. #41 |  Mike Weidner | 

    The manager did exactly what he was supposed to do…Safeway has a “No Tolerence” policy for shoplifting adults..And the policy states that once the product leaves the store (which they did) they are not to accept payment for that product… Instead of placing the wrappers in plain sight ( in the cart or on top of her purse) she hid them under the childs carrier.. It was the police that decided to do an arrest , when a citation could have been issued.. When the police told them that they were both being arrested, they asked if there was anyone they could call to come get the 2 year old…Since they had just moved there 2 weeks prior, they said they knew no one…This is why CWS or CPS took the child. All Safeways I have been in have an area where you can sit and eat items you have purchased at the deli register…Why did they not do this, instead of munching on the sandwiches as they shopped… She said she was dizzy and lightheaded… All the more reason to seat and eat… Plus when they contacted a lawyer, he was the one to suggest they contact the media to get public sympathy and turn the public against Safeway.. The manager did what he was supposed to do..In todays economy. he could very well find himself looking for a new job for not following company policy…

  42. #42 |  Justthisguy | 

    I have a solution to this problem. Time-stamp the sandwich when handing it to its eater. If it’s uneaten at the register, he pays the marked price. If he starts eating before then, he has just taken out a mortgage on the sandwich and we charge him, oh, 3% per minute until he gets to the register. I think people who do this tend to dawdle a lot, and this will cut down on that. As a guy, I like to get in and get out quickly; zoned-out women clogging the aisles is something which annoys me. :-^