Detained by Montgomery County Police For Buying Sugar

I was detained by the police today and accused of stealing. I was also illegally detained against my will by several Wal*Mart employees preceding the detention by police. My crime? Leaving Wal*Mart with four bags of sugar (that I had just purchased) without showing a receipt, because I was not given one by the Wal*Mart cashier. I was threatened with being taken to jail, threatened with physical violence as I attempted to leave, and had to defend myself and my property while Wal*Mart security attempted to rip it from my hands, breaking my bags and causing one of my items to break open on the pavement. After I was released (having been completely innocent all along), I was lectured by the police officer and Wal*Mart manager about how next time I could make it easier on myself by just agreeing to give up my rights to their goons to begin with. While the initial employee who detained me apologized, the others, including the Wal*Mart Manager, did not.

I was at the Germantown Wal*Mart to buy four bags of sugar because earlier in the day I had been at Butler’s Orchard picking 10 pounds of strawberries to turn into delicious jam. And to make delicious jam, you need lots of sugar. I grabbed four bags and headed to the checkout, where I also decided I could use some refreshment. I grabbed a Mountain Dew from the cooler, but the cashier had already processed my card for the four bags of sugar. He apologized and rang up another transaction for the Mt. Dew. At that point, he crumpled up my receipt for the four bags of sugar and handed me the receipt for the Mountain Dew. I headed for the exit, and was greeted by Wal*Mart security who wanted to check my receipt. I produced the receipt for the Mountain Dew and explained that the cashier had tossed the other receipt for the sugar. I would repeat this explanation 6 more times before this affair ended. The rest of the tale is below…

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

At this point, I attempted to leave, but was told I could not. I immediately asked if I was being detained. I was told “no” but that I wasn’t allowed to leave unless I walked back to the cashier to get a receipt. I said that I was “happy to let the security guard talk to the cashier, but that I was heading home with my sugar.” I attempted to leave again, and the door was blocked. I asked again if I was being detained, and was told “yes.” I asked on what grounds, and the security guard said “Because you stole.”

I informed the guard I had done no such thing, that the sugar was my property, and I was leaving with it. This time I pushed passed him and left the store, with him following me demanding I stop. As I left, he grabbed my bags, ripping them open. As he followed me he attempted to grab my bags, and grab the items inside of my bags. At one point, he told me that he should “kick my ass.” As I reached the end of sidewalk outside the store and headed towards my car in the parking lot, another employee came running and blocked my path. Soon afterwards a manager arrived. I again asked if I was being detained. I was informed by the manager that I was. I again asked for what reason, and was told by the original security guard that it was for stealing. I once again informed them that I hadn’t stolen anything and that I was leaving.

At this point, the manager informed me that Wal*Mart policy did not allow me to leave the store without showing a receipt. I said that I had paid for my merchandise, that it was in fact a store employee that had thrown away my receipt, and that I was not compelled to prove that items that I legally owned belonged to anyone but me. Again I inquired whether I was being detained, and was told my only options were to go back in the store to talk to the cashier or have the police called. I informed the manager that she was welcome to call the police, because I had done nothing wrong. At tht point, she radioed for someone to call the police. Once again, I started to walk to my car as the two security guards again attempted to block my path in the parking lot.

At this point, and off duty police officer came to the scene (he appeared to be heading into Wal*Mart to shop, not the one called by the manager), showed his badge, and asked for an explanation. Everyone was calmed by this, and tensions visibly eased on the faces of the Wal*Mart employees. I explained my side, and Wal*Mart employees explained their side. After the explanations, I asked the police officer if I was being detained, and he said yes. I asked on what grounds, and he said “suspicion of theft.” The officer told me I could give them “their merchandise back” and leave at that point or I could go inside and talk to the cashier. I indicated that since he was detaining me, I was willing to go back into the store and speak with the cashier, but that the merchandise belonged to me.  At this point, one of the bags of sugar fell from my ripped bags and split open on the pavement. It was an accident, but I could tell no one believed me when I said so.

On the way into the store, the officer informed me that it was his day off, he had important things to do, and he didn’t want to take me to jail. But I had one last chance to give them their merchandise back and just leave, because if I wasn’t telling the truth, he would personally drive me to the station. I agreed wholeheartedly with him, and told him so. I’m fairly certain he thought I had actually stolen the sugar at this point. He then asked what I needed so much sugar for anyway. At the time, I was literally covered with strawberry juice. It had stained my shorts and shirt red, and I thought it was fairly believable that I was going to make strawberry jam. He still seemed skeptical, asking where I had been picking strawberries, and only seemed to believe me after I was able to name Butler’s Orchard. He then asked if I had ID, what my name was, and how old I was. Upon telling him this, he said “You better not be lying to me,” so perhaps I was too quick to think he didn’t assume I was guilty.

Of course, upon re-entering the store and speaking with the cashier, he informed everyone that I had paid for the sugar and the receipt was found in his trash can. His story differed slightly in that he told them he had given me the receipt but I had thrown it into his trash can. That was impossible based on where his trash can was from the checkout counter, but it didn’t matter. The original security guard was cordial, shook my hand, and apologized. The Wal*Mart manager and police officer lectured about how next time if I just cooperated and gave up my rights at the beginning, it would have been much easier on everyone. Trust me, Wal*Mart, there won’t be a next time.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

A decade ago, Ben Stanfield found himself at the intersection of politics and technology as he wandered nomadically around the country managing congressional races. But when he moved to DC 6 years ago, he found that the intersection had become, in the grand tradition of L’Enfant, a circle where politics and technology were joined by science, photography and a host of smaller side streets of interest. These days, he works as a Macintosh Server Administrator for a large governmental health institute in Bethesda. In his spare time, he’s an avid photographer, charter member at HacDC, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Columbia Heights Youth Club. In 2005 he founded of Draft Obama, a national grassroots movement to convince Barack Obama to run for President. Everything he writes here speaks for itself and not on behalf of any other group, organization, person, or any of his other personalities.

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