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.

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

  1. #1 |  Bob | 

    This story is confusing. Where did they get these sandwiches? Did they just grab them out of their cart and start chomping on them?

    Much as I want to side with these people, I expect Safeway has people rip stuff off all the time, and they’re sick of it.

    I doubt that they have sandwiches just lying around with no packaging. Even if they did eat them while shopping, tacky as that is, wouldn’t that still leave the scannable wrapper to buy at the checkout?

  2. #2 |  Chris Rhodes | 

    Where did they get these sandwiches?

    The deli?

  3. #3 |  Jimi S | 

    The Safeway I was in a couple times in Florida had like a deli like section where you could get a sandwich made or grab a premade sandwich out of a display cooler. They probably picked up one and split it as they shopped, then threw the wrapper in the trash. People do this all the time, normally they don’t forget to ring it up, or maybe they do forget and this is the reason the store reacted the way it did.

    One question I have is, were they regular customers at the store?

  4. #4 |  fwb | 

    Yeah, but they did steal.

    However, typical of modern people, the manager overreacted by calling the police. When I was a young person, the manager would deal with you personally and rectify the situation in-house. Today we have a bunch of wussies and pussies running everything. And we have a billion laws governing every possible human interaction eventhough, the case of the feds, they have no authority to pass such laws.

  5. #5 |  Marc | 

    Shame on you, sir, for your misleading blog post. They were arrested and lost their kid over TWO $5 sandwiches. Clearly you, the Koch brothers, and George Soros something something.

  6. #6 |  Jeremiah | 

    The excessive response to this is the fault of the government, not Safeway, which has no way of determining the motives of people who take without paying.

  7. #7 |  Bob | 

    Chris,

    I’m sure they sell sandwiches there. But they don’t just have them on a platter with a sign that says “Sandwiches! 5 bucks for 2! Bring your own plate.”

    No, they’re packaged and labeled. Otherwise, how do the checkout people know how much to charge? How do you carry them around in your cart? A sandwich intended for immediate consumption (No wrapper or pricing information stuck to it.) would also be paid for immediately.

    Eating the sandwiches wasn’t what got them in trouble. Ditching the wrapper was the problem.

    I buy things at the grocery store all the time. I don’t have to ‘remember’ what I’m buying. It’s right there in the cart.

  8. #8 |  primus | 

    stores over-react. Lady I know was in Kmart, had a pair of stockings in the wrapper tucked under her arm, just forgot them. When she went through the checkout, the clerk spotted them and rather than mention the fact, she allowed the customer to go through the checkout, then called security to arrest the ‘shoplifter’. When the case went to court, the judge rightly castigated the rep from Kmart for the company’s conduct. When Kmart went bust in Canada, there wasn’t a moist eye in the country.

  9. #9 |  dave smith | 

    Could the store clerk or manager, if they inadvertently charged someone for something twice, be exposed to the possiblity of arrest?

    I mean, if I walk out of a store and see that I have been charged twice for something, should I call the cops?

  10. #10 |  Mattocracy | 

    Safeway has no way of determining motives of people who take without paying? They could’ev just said, “hey, pay for this” and they would have been made whole. The Safeway Manager never should have called the police if the couple offered to pay.

  11. #11 |  John M | 

    “Ditching the wrapper was the problem.” I don’t see in the story where it says they ditched the wrapper. When I was a kid, my mom would give me a box of animal crackers to eat while she shopped and then would pay for the empty box at the end. This was in the days before scanners were widespread, so she typically would tell the clerk, “and a box of animal crackers, too.” I wouldn’t be surprised if there were times when my mom forgot to pay. Ironically, this could be an occasion where those Big Brother-ish frequent shopper cards could be to the customer’s benefit for something other than discounted prices. for instance, if the defendants were in the habit of eating deli sandwiches while shopping, they could subpoena their shopping records and show previous payments for the same product.

    I’m on the fence on this story. On one hand, yeah, it’s only a couple of $5 sandwiches. On the other hand, shoplifting is a significant problem for grocery stores, which generally operate on thin profit margins. Nearly anything that can be shoplifted from a grocery store will be relatively inexpensive, and nearly any shoplifter can create an innocent explanation. “What? Oh, I put that in my pocket?! I wondered why it wasn’t in the cart!” So I don’t necessarily blame Safeway for involving the police. I’m sure they hear the “mistake” defense from nearly everyone they nab. It would be nice, however, if in the case of a non-violent misdemeanor that has no impact on fitness to care for children, the police could have figured out a way to book them and ROR them without involving CPS.

    Finally, I was rubbed the wrong way by this comment from the mother. “‘This is unreal this could happen to a family like ours,’ Nicole Leszczynski told Hawaii’s KHON.” Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but it’s as if she is saying that Safeway should have eyeballed them, and based on whatever (clothing? Skin color? What?), determined that they weren’t in the class of person that would steal groceries.

  12. #12 |  John M | 

    “The Safeway Manager never should have called the police if the couple offered to pay.”

    Here’s the problem with that, Matt. If Safeway took that approach with every person who failed to pay for an item, then there would cease to be a downside to shoplifting. Anyone could shoplift anything as long as he had the means to pay for it. If he doesn’t get caught, he doesn’t get caught. If he does get caught, he pays for it and tries again next time (probably at another store).

  13. #13 |  Marty | 

    time for them to find a new grocery store.

  14. #14 |  CyniCAl | 

    They were haoles. That simple.

  15. #15 |  MH | 

    “Safeway has no way of determining motives of people who take without paying? ”

    What do you propose? An in-store lie detector test? Maybe a psychic?

    Probably the managers have heard all the excuses before, and adopt a policy to prosecute all thieves so they don’t have to deal with the bullshit.

  16. #16 |  Radley Balko | 

    Seems to me that the fact that they actually paid for $50 worth of groceries is pretty good evidence that they didn’t intend to shoplift two $5 sandwiches. I’m not sure an actual, obvious $10 theft is worth an arrest and putting a kid in CPS for a day, but that they paid for everything else seals it for me that this was a massive overreaction.

    If someone had walked into the store empty-handed, ate a sandwich while walking the aisles, then walked out without paying, that would be quite a bit different.

    I was turned off by the mother’s comment, too. But I don’t know that it’s all that relevant to whether or not she intended to pay for the sandwich.

  17. #17 |  Thom | 

    #12 – You’re right, if Safeway took that approach with EVERY person, there would cease to be a downside to shoplifting. But I don’t think anybody is saying that Safeway should take that approach universally. The entire point is that Safeway (and the local police) failed to use the proper discretion in dealing with the situation. Being able to distinguish between paying customers who made an honest mistake vs somebody who’s just trying to jack all your cigarettes and baby formula is an essential skill for a supermarket manager.

  18. #18 |  James B. | 

    “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.

    So the husband ate a sandwich, because the wife felt dizzy?

  19. #19 |  NY Cynic | 

    As someone who has done retail management, the manager overreacted big time. The only time I ever called the cops on someone was if I threw them out of the store and they refused to leave. If someone walked out of the checkout I would said “We forgot to ring up so and so” 9 out 10 times the customer (like this couple) will return back to pay for it. Huge overreaction.

    RE: #5

    I got a few better ones for you

    Paleocon: Obviously this liberal is covering for this illegal alien couple who took jobs that belong to Americans, they should be locked up along with their “kid” and deported

    Neocon: Nothing but Islamist apologist crap, they were probably trying to poison the sandwiches with anthrax to kill christians and jews

    Liberal: Obviously a tea-bagger/Glenn Beck plant trying to make a company who doesnt bow down to the rabid right look bad

  20. #20 |  2nd of 3 | 

    Sounds like an overreaction, but 2 little sandwiches times X number of “forgetful” people adds up to real money. How do you tell she’s just a innocent mother? Why should that be the manager’s job? His or her job is to run the place, not play Judge Whopner for every shoplifter.

    That said I would have just banned her from the property.

  21. #21 |  Anonymous | 

    I don’t know if the readership here is changing but I find it somewhat ironic that the commenters defending the Safeway manager’s actions (something Safeway isn’t even doing) are using the same one-size-fits-all, “but it’s the rule” argument that people use to defend government agents when they do crap like this.

  22. #22 |  Mike T | 

    Safeway has no way of determining motives of people who take without paying? They could’ev just said, “hey, pay for this” and they would have been made whole. The Safeway Manager never should have called the police if the couple offered to pay.

    In fact, she offered to pay for them when security brought it up. Security wouldn’t let her make Safeway legally whole on this.

    Safeway’s regional manager should fire the store manager for that. Grocery stores operate in a very competitive marketplace with thin margins in a bad economy. They cannot afford to be run by an idiot with the people skills of a socially autistic ambulance chaser.

  23. #23 |  2nd of 3 | 

    Seems to me that the fact that they actually paid for $50 worth of groceries is pretty good evidence that they didn’t intend to shoplift two $5 sandwiches. I’m not sure an actual, obvious $10 theft is worth an arrest and putting a kid in CPS for a day, but that they paid for everything else seals it for me that this was a massive overreaction.

    Shoplifters often only steal a few things and then pay for the rest. The whole point is to have plausible deniability (I totally forgot about those drinks on the bottom of the cart. Oopsie!) The most common tactic I used to see was a friendly cashier skipping an item here and there while scanning. I agree this was an over reaction, but the fact she bought something (and trust me, $50 doesn’t buy much at a Safeway, much less one in Hawaii) isn’t good evidence she just made an innocent mistake.

  24. #24 |  jurassicpork | 

    What it all comes down to is the manager’s discretion and the manager blew it, Big Time. When he saw the family had just spent $50 and had the cash to pay for the sandwiches, he could’ve just done the, “Aw, shucks, just an innocent mistake, I’ll take you right here” tack. But, no, instead he decided to be a vicious prick about it.

    Having been in retail for years, I know most large stores routinely carry and roll from quarter to quarter a shrinkage, as it’s called, in the low five figures. Obviously, it’s something that has to be combated but in the grand scheme of things, $10 will not make or break a store. And, again, he should’ve used his discretion but chose not to and to treat a family of three with one on the way as if they were crackheads who were routinely robbing him blind. Screw him. I hope he gets his corporate-loving ass fired.

  25. #25 |  Mattocracy | 

    “Probably the managers have heard all the excuses before, and adopt a policy to prosecute all thieves so they don’t have to deal with the bullshit.”

    Sounds a lot like the “zero tolerance” rules we have in our public schools. This is bullshit. Every situation is different. It’s ok to use some logic every once in a while when it’s not a clear cut case of stealing.

    When I was in high school I worked at Best Buy. They have a policy of prosecution for any and all theft. A 5 year old kid with his mom pulled a pokemon stuffed toy off a display without mom realizing it and our theft prevention guy noticed it. Our managers argued about this because one of them actually wanted to prosecute the kid. At 5, he didn’t even have the capacity to realize he was stealing. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and this kid got his pokemon without a conviction.

  26. #26 |  Phelps | 

    Well, the reaction of Safeway corporate was enough for me to not cancel the trip to Tom Thumb (same entity) I had planned tonight.

  27. #27 |  John M | 

    Radley, I don’t necessarily disagree with your ultimate conclusion that they probably didn’t mean to steal the sandwiches. On the other hand, while a quick internet search didn’t reveal any statistics, I do think a certain percentages of thefts are committed by people who are paying for other items. Anecdotally, I knew people when I was younger who would steal, say, razor blades and batteries, small but relatively expensive items, while buying groceries.

    As I said in my original post, I generally agree that the police should have found a way to cite the parents without arresting them or involving CPS. Even if they were guilty, this was a misdemeanor and the child was in no danger. I have a tougher time thinking that Safeway did much wrong.

    As to the mother’s comment, I don’t think it has much to do with her guilt or innocence. I do think, however, that it suggests ignorance about shoplifting. Shoplifting appears to be a complusion for some people and isn’t necessarily related to financial need. I don’t think it’s as easy for a grocery store to identify shoplifters with the eyeball test as some might believe.

  28. #28 |  Ed | 

    Awesome, you can steal billions and buy and island but $10 bucks from Safeway and you go to jail. Fake democracy.

  29. #29 |  Rob Lyman | 

    I remember once at a place I worked, a guy got caught stealing $1.50 worth of automotive fuses with $20 in his wallet. And the funny thing was, the store security guy had him pegged as a thief from the moment he walked in, and just sort of followed him around. He never had a chance to get away with it.

    Given the thin margins and the number of people looking for a free lunch (literally, in this case) I don’t blame Safeway for calling the cops. I do wonder, though, if it’s impossible to issue a criminal citation in Hawaii. Booking and calling CPS seems pretty excessive unless you’re dealing with someone with a long rap sheet or a history of failing to appear.

  30. #30 |  Johnny | 

    This echoes a classic SIMPSONS episode. Apu knew Marge made an innocent mistake, but relished the chance to “put that bitch on ice!”

  31. #31 |  Fred Mangels | 

    Shoplifting appears to be a complusion for some people and isn’t necessarily related to financial need.

    I’ve read a number of times that the vast majority of shoplifters are caught with more than enough money in their pockets to pay for the items they stole.

    I don’t think it’s as easy for a grocery store to identify shoplifters with the eyeball test as some might believe.

    I knew a retired cop that used to do retail security at a grocery store. I asked him once how he could tell when a person was a potential shoplifter. He replied, “After a while you can just tell”. I guess that doesn’t always work, or the security guy that went after me was relatively new.

    A few years ago, I used to make my daily beer runs at a local Safeway since they had the cheapest beer in town at the time. One afternoon I went in, grabbed a 12 pack and went to go stand in line.

    I saw a younger blond haired guy hurry over to where I was at and stand about 20 feet away staring at me. I should say “glaring” at me. He was quite obvious about it and when I casually glanced at him he kept on with his glare. I’m guessing he expected me to run from the store with the beer, despite my standing in the checkout line, as that does happen frequently at Safeways in our town.

    I guess I must have had “that look” to him. A month or so later I went to the same Safeway for another beer run. Picked up a 12 pack but this time went to the other side of the store to check the deli to see if they had anything good to eat.

    I didn’t notice him until I got close to the deli rack when he hurried around my back side and positioned himself by the exit doors and gave me the same glare. Once again I guess he expected me to make a break for the door. I didn’t see anything in the deli I felt like buying so went to the nearest checkout line to pay for the beer. He stood by the exit the whole time glaring at me.

    I thought it was almost amusing and wish I had the guts to go ask him what it was about me that made him think I was a shoplifter, but I never did. Stopped going there after they stopped selling the cheapest beer.

  32. #32 |  Kristen | 

    I’m gobsmacked that a bunch of people here think arrest, detention and CPS involvement was an appropriate reaction here. What. the. fuck? It’s not rocket science to figure out whether these people were sincerely mistaken. Every bit of evidence points to frazzled parents who made a boo-boo. Are you telling me that none of you perfect human specimens has ever been stressed to the point of brain freeze? Ever?

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

    I once put a box of wrapping paper in the underside of my shopping cart at Target and mistakenly walked away without paying. I guess an arrest and tossing of my condo would have been an appropriate response.

  33. #33 |  Radley Balko | 

    Come to think of it, I once walked out of Costco with a bag of dog food on the bottom of my cart that hadn’t been rung up. Caught it when I got to the car and went back to pay for it.

    Kinda’ surprised at the reaction to this story. Seems like maybe we should allow for the possibility of absent-mindedness before we start giving people criminal records and taking their kids over $5 sandwiches.

  34. #34 |  MH | 

    @22: I am in favor of people using discretion and judgment, but your comment just struck me as a little naive. Thieves will always have a rationalization for their theft, sometimes it might even seem convincing.

    The problem with zero tolerance is that students are punished disproportionately from what they did (and sometimes what they did seems like it shouldn’t even be an infraction, like having a bottle of aspirin). Here it is a question of trying to figure out if someone’s motive excuses what they stole, and I can understand managers wanting a bright line rule instead of turning every day into an episode of “Lie to Me.”

  35. #35 |  BSK | 

    I often much on stuff while I shop. The stores I use actually have a new system where you use a portable scanner to scan as you go. There is a bit of an honor system involved, though every now and then you are randomly selected for an “audit” and they check a sampling of items in your back to make sure you scanned them. I always make sure to scan what I’m going to eat before I do it, to avoid forgetting. And I say this not to punish others who don’t do this, but to acknowledge how easy it is to make mistakes like this. It happens. People leave things in the bottom of their cart, stuff things into their bag or pocket if they don’t have a basket, or otherwise make mistakes and end up “stealing” when they had absolutely no intention to.

    More to the point, even if this couple had every intention to steal the sandwiches, do we really think that their child is best served by the actions taken?

  36. #36 |  EH | 

    Fred: Easy, “what are you, a cop?” as you walk by.

    2nd of 3:
    How do you tell she’s just a innocent mother?

    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. CPS is probably too good for the kid, better make them an accessory for providing a distraction while the parents’ crimes are committed.

  37. #37 |  John M | 

    “I’m gobsmacked that a bunch of people here think arrest, detention and CPS involvement was an appropriate reaction here. ”

    Show me even one comment that says that, Kristen. I’ve noted in each of my posts that I think the police should have found a way to avoid sending the kid to CPS over this relatively minor alleged offense. I’m not even sure they should have been charged. But I don’t think Safeway, which probably hears excuses like this every day, was unjustified in calling the police.

  38. #38 |  Rob Lyman | 

    Seems like maybe we should allow for the possibility of absent-mindedness before we start giving people criminal records and taking their kids over $5 sandwiches.

    Yes, but have you ever actually dealt with habitual criminals, even petty ones? They’re quite convincing liars, and always have an excuse. One of the reasons cops sometimes seem so unreasonable to normal people in these sorts of situations is that they spend much of their time dealing with people who aren’t normal, which can warp their perspective. Real criminals regard trust and mercy as weakness to be taken advantage of.

    Additionally, the risk to management and law enforcement of using discretion is actually pretty high; 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).

    I stick with saying a criminal citation was the way to go unless there was a compelling reason that wouldn’t work. I’d also add that we’re getting only one side of the story here, which is never a good way to form an opinion.

  39. #39 |  Lynne | 

    The customer should have been given the benefit of the doubt. I wonder how they discovered they had eaten and not paid for the sandwiches. If it was a security camera, why didn’t they approach them while in the check-out line and say “oh, don’t forget to pay for the sandwiches”. Instead they humiliated them and had them arrested.

    It would be a different story if they ate the food, didn’t purchase anything and snuck out of the store without paying. That would be theft.

  40. #40 |  Matt | 

    They were stopped inside? How is it theft if they haven’t left the store?

  41. #41 |  Maria | 

    To me it’s not really the fact that they might or might not have intended to pay for the sandwiches. If they didn’t intend to pay they got caught, and immediately offered to pay. They didn’t try to weasel their way out.

    But also why is it so hard to believe for some of us that they really did forget to mention the sandwiches? Are ALL the people in your lives that two faced? Because while I know a few bad apples, and seen some in my job, i also know that not everyone is one. I’ve forgotten stuff on the bottom of my cart a few times.

    What really bugs me is the fact that there is a gamut of possible reactions. Lots of ways of handling situations. There are ways that tighten up a society and there are ways that increasingly fragment it, sliver by sliver. Calling the cops or a government agency on every little thing fragments society.

    It’s like those neighbors who instead of coming over to ask if everything is ok this month because your grass is getting long call county services on you. Or people who call the cops on kid who breaks a window with a ball instead of taking it up with the parents.

    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.

  42. #42 |  MassHole | 

    Wow. What a crock. They should have let them pay for the sandwiches and at worst told them not to come back.

    Good think they got these horrible people off the street and their daughter into the loving hands of the state. Can’t tolerate any mistakes when it comes to money. By the way, anyone ever find out what happened to those planeloads of cash that went into Iraq? Nah, a few billion isn’t really a big deal.

  43. #43 |  marco73 | 

    I haven’t see any comments about the dirty little secret to store security – civil restitution.
    Store security catches a shoplifter, then management offers to make everything go away for a few hundred dollars. Shoplifters, after they are convicted or plead guilt, will also find themselves sued by the retailer for civil damages.
    Looks like these folks have a court date in November, unless public scrutiny forces Safeway’s hand and charges are quietly dropped.
    But what about the civil restitution? Didn’t see anything in the article about that. Makes you wonder if maybe management was just playing hardball by calling in the cops.

  44. #44 |  MH | 

    “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.”

    You’re being sarcastic, but you shouldn’t be. If there is no risk to eating food without paying for it, what do you think is going to happen?

    “CPS is probably too good for the kid, better make them an accessory for providing a distraction while the parents’ crimes are committed.”

    Marco makes a good point about bringing up civil restitution, a better alternative to treating it as a criminal offense. Make it a $500 sandwich or so and you’ll see fewer of these “innocent mistakes.”

  45. #45 |  Chris in AL | 

    While I think that stores big and small have the right to protect themselves from theft and I have no sympathy for shoplifters, this story is, on its face, crazy.

    I think there needs to be a ‘good faith’ component to the transaction of business in shopping. If arrest and letting the court settle it is appropriate in this case then arrests should be the only outcome when the business issues the incorrect change or overcharges for an item. If it is the right attitude to assume attempted theft and arrest the alleged shoplifter and let the court figure it out, then they must also arrest the cashier that gives incorrect change, assume attempted theft, and let the court figure it out.

    There is no way that only one party in the transaction should be protected by the good faith component.

    And obviously, the government is guilty of child abuse by separating a child from the parents and putting them into the system over this. The parents should have been allowed to call a friend or family member to come get the child before being taken into custody.

  46. #46 |  Dante | 

    Let’s all remember:

    Torture of detainees, warrantless wiretaps, imprisonment of innocents, murder, ……

    all go by the wayside. No crime there, eh, coppers?

    Accidentally forgetting to pay for a sandwich? Jail and removal of your children. Ruination. Embarrasment.

    Yep. The priorities seem about right – for sadists.

  47. #47 |  MH | 

    That’s a category error, Dante. Local police and store managers are not going to decide to go easy on shoplifters in light of federal overreaches in the War on Terror.

  48. #48 |  EH | 

    Marco makes a good point about bringing up civil restitution, a better alternative to treating it as a criminal offense. Make it a $500 sandwich or so and you’ll see fewer of these “innocent mistakes.”

    I’m all for keeping the police out of stuff like this. Maybe Safeway has learned a little themselves to never call the police.

  49. #49 |  (B)oscoH | 

    @Marc #5: You didn’t use the agreed upon safe word, but we all see what you did there!

  50. #50 |  yonemoto | 

    Hey, at least safeway apologized. Why hasn’t the state?

  51. #51 |  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.

  52. #52 |  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.

  53. #53 |  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.

  54. #54 |  PeeDub | 

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

  55. #55 |  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.

  56. #56 |  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.

  57. #57 |  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.

  58. #58 |  ellsworth | 

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

  59. #59 |  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.

  60. #60 |  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.

  61. #61 |  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.

  62. #62 |  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——–

  63. #63 |  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.

  64. #64 |  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…

  65. #65 |  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?

  66. #66 |  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.

  67. #67 |  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.

  68. #68 |  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.

  69. #69 |  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.

  70. #70 |  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.

  71. #71 |  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.

  72. #72 |  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.

  73. #73 |  Charlie O | 

    Bill Roberts,

    You’re right, you are a dick.

  74. #74 |  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. :-)

  75. #75 |  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.

  76. #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.

  77. #77 |  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.

  78. #78 |  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.

  79. #79 |  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.

  80. #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.

  81. #81 |  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?

  82. #82 |  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.

  83. #83 |  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.

  84. #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).

  85. #85 |  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.

  86. #86 |  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.

  87. #87 |  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).

  88. #88 |  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.

  89. #89 |  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.

  90. #90 |  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.

  91. #91 |  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…

  92. #92 |  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. :-^

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