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…

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.

24 Comments so far

  1. RumorsDaily (doorframe) on June 14th, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    I probably wouldn’t have shown them my receipt at all; you did more than was necessary. Good for you, don’t let them bully you.

  2. Craig.Carlen[Online].com » Need I say it again…Wal-Mart is not worth your hard earned money… (pingback) on June 14th, 2008 @ 10:40 pm

    […] a few days ago I posted this – now it seems Wal-mart is resorting to bullying, threats, and illegal detainment…all over 4 bags of […]

  3. Carl Weaver (carlweaver) on June 15th, 2008 @ 1:00 am

    Wal-Mart is run by jerk-offs that screw with their customers. That’s one reason I don’t go there anymore. Nothing but hassles for customers. I hope some execs or PR folks who look for links to their own site will read this and see what a bunch of douchebags those people were.

  4. kaydren on June 15th, 2008 @ 1:03 am

    Germantown walmart is the worst store ever. This does not surprise me one bit. 3 years ago I made a $253 dollar purchase.

    The nazi at the door had watched me put the change and receipt in my wallet, walk directly from the checkout to the door and he walked up to my cart and jerked it to the side and started to paw through my bags asking to see my receipt. I was a bit shocked by this and had no idea the guy worked there, I tried to go around him and the guy grabbed my forearm to stop me from leaving. It was really unnerving as at first, I had no idea that this guy worked there. Anyway, I thought I had dropped the receipt the in the bag which I usually do and started looking in the bags, but he corrected me and told me that he saw me put my receipt in my wallet.

    Well if he knew that then he obviously watched me walk from the register! How on earth he could think I was stealing was beyond me. But, I demanded very loudly for a manager who came over and then informed me that I had to show proof that I made the purchase.

    I produced the receipt and then promptly asked for a full refund. I refuse to shop anywhere where I’m treated as though I’m a thief.

    My dad used to shop there as well and once brought home a loaf of bread only to find out it had mold on it. He took it right back to the store and the manager refused to exchange or refund it as it was "food" and not subject to returns.

    So there’s another person who walmart will get not one more cent from.

  5. bhrome on June 15th, 2008 @ 1:04 am

    And yet one more reason my wife and I refuse to patronize Wal*Mart over the last ten years.

  6. The Writing On The Wal » Blog Archive » WAL-MART GESTAPO DEMANDS MAN’S PAPERS… (pingback) on June 15th, 2008 @ 6:57 am

    […] Ben Stansfield: I was detained by the police today and accused of stealing. I was also illegally detained against […]

  7. Don (dc_don) on June 15th, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    Kaydren, the reason they hassled you even though they’d seen you come from the register is probably the same reason they hassled Ben – it’s not that they don’t realize you came through the registers, but that one of the most common way things get ‘stolen’ from places like Wal-mart is in collusion with the cashiers. People come through the lines to where their cohort is checking people out and s/he fails to ring up some or most of the items. It looks above-board unless the receipt is checked.

    Unfortunately the people who suffer are us, harassed with moronic receipt checks because they can’t manage to attract quality employees with their crappy corporate culture and non-existent benefits.

  8. dcwriterdawn on June 15th, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

    That was you?

    They are bastards at the Germantown store. The store is the worst one I’ve ever shopped in, and I don’t understand why they stop me for one item or one small bag of items but let others walk out the door with unbagged items. I hardly look like a criminal and believe me, I spend a LOT of money there.

    And I’m like you there, too. I tell them it ain’t Costco. I also get angry when they make me produce a receipt when I’m carrying a 20-pound bag of cat litter. Yes, I know I should have it handy, but car keys go in the free hand when I’m struggling to get out of the store. Sorry.

    Go to the Fredneck Wallyworld instead. It’s worth the 30-mile drive from Butler’s Orchard, plus that one has a grocery section. A real one. If you’re ever inclined to go back at all, since the Tar-zhay across the street IS nicer. :)

  9. billy123 on June 15th, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

    Yeah Walmart sucks,
    But you’re also a fucking idiot.
    Why wouldn’t you just show the receipt?
    It actually would have made this lame story non-existent.

  10. uradumbass on June 15th, 2008 @ 8:41 pm

    billy123 is more of an idiot than the author for trying to be clever when it is common sense that if you dare shop at Wal-Mart, you deserve to get your nuts crushed with a spiked bat and fed to you through your anus. If you want to sell your soul to a place that is single handedly ruining our economy just to save 50 cents on a 40 lb bag of corn flakes, then go cry in the mirror biatch. The cops should have beat you with a night stick and you know what, I bet you would still shop there. Funny story, a Wal-Mart employee got hurt on Wal-Mart property and the injury left them disabled. It was Wal-Mart at fault so the employee received a big settlement which she was going to need because she was left unable to work for the rest of her life. Wal-Mart lawyers found a loophole which states that if a Wal-Mart employee gets hurt on company property, the company has the right to take all of her money in certain situations and they did. every cent. You all get what you deserve complaining like little homos. This page is like gay porn, I am out douches.

  11. DCBlogs » DC Blogs Noted (pingback) on June 16th, 2008 @ 12:03 am

    […] Detained by Montgomery County Police For Buying Sugar. Ben Stanfield at MetBlogs shares his shopping experience. […]

  12. Carl Weaver (carlweaver) on June 16th, 2008 @ 12:04 am

    Wow. I am not sure who is a bigger asshole – billy123 or uradumbass. Either way, Wal-Mart seems rather intent on policing that front door but I wonder if they have found that being jerks to most people has reduced theft more than it has reduced their revenues by driving people away.

    The rare times I go to a Wal-Mart (I think it has been over two years ago but I won’t swear to that), the door guy just looks at the receipt, doesn’t check the merchandise and lets me on my way. That’s equally stupid but at least it doesn’t inconvenience me.

    Oh, yeah – I am the guy who has been known to set off the door alarms because someone forgot to demagnetize some product but I don’t stop or go back in the store. Is that anti-social? If so I am okay with it. Wal-Mart managers and rent-a-cops can eat me.

  13. ilovewilly on June 16th, 2008 @ 12:40 am

    He asked you to simply provide a receipt, you’re just being difficult. Companies are just trying to deter theft as much as possible. I would not have liked being handled that way but you really think making things harder for them will make it easier for you? I’m sure if you had taken the few steps back towards the register it would have saved you the trouble. Damnit, they’re checking for THEFT, they DONT KNOW if you "legally" own the item.

    I have set off alarms too and I dont stop unless I’m asked to, which I then comply because its REASONABLE.

  14. RumorsDaily (doorframe) on June 16th, 2008 @ 12:48 am

    It is not reasonable.

    Stopping every person to ask them if they’ve stolen is a ridiculous waste of time for the 99% of customers who didn’t steal. Instead of doing this, why not just hire somebody to watch the cashiers and the customers to see if it looks like anybody is stealing and only then start hassling people. As the customer, why should I care how much the store wants to deter theft? I can tell you th at 100% of the time you look at my check, you’re not deterring any theft, you’re just angering a good customer who paid for a collection of goods from your store. As a customer, you SHOULD be difficult, they’re treating you like you’re stealing from them… you should treat them as you would treat anybody who just accused you of robbery them–poorly.

    If you like being treated like a thief in your day to day life, then this sort of thing isn’t a problem and you should be happy to provide receipts, your driver’s license, your passport, you’re DOB, your favorite color and whatever else a store might ask for in search of the elusive and very formidable shoplifter. If you don’t like being treated this way, then refusing to provide receipts for things you just purchased is perfectly reasonable.

  15. Don (dc_don) on June 16th, 2008 @ 9:22 am

    It was Wal-Mart at fault so the employee received a big settlement which she was going to need because she was left unable to work for the rest of her life. Wal-Mart lawyers found a loophole which states that if a Wal-Mart employee gets hurt on company property, the company has the right to take all of her money in certain situations and they did.

    That makes no sense, which is because it’s almost 100% incorrect. There was an infamous case not long ago where an employee was injured – not on the job – and her medical care was paid for out of her Wal-mart health insurance. When she subsequently received a large settlement from the insurance company of the person who hit her (not on the job, you’ll note), Wal-mart attempted to recover what they had spent on her care from that settlement.

    I’m not a big fan of Wal-mart’s practices, but in this particular case they were completely reasonable. If you haven’t seen your cost for health care go up lately then someone else is picking up your bill. A settlement for injury is meant to pay for that injury, and by trying to keep that money for themselves the Shanks were putting their own interests above that of the other people using that insurance – every buck they keep is a buck that insurance can’t pay out for some other sick person.

    In the end Wal-mart backed off and let them keep the $417,000, what they kept from the $750,000 settlement after legal fees. Probably the best move overall, but I wonder what that insurance pool will have to cut corners on to make up for that money. I also wonder… where’s the outrage towards the lawyers for the Shanks who kept 45% of that settlement? That $333,000 is almost as much as Wal-mart was attempting to recoup.

  16. bhrome on June 16th, 2008 @ 11:12 am

    Y’know, I’m still trying to figure out why they didn’t just radio their LP camera guy, who’s supposed to be watching the monitors, and do a verification check. Each register is covered by a camera; surely they could’ve just spent the 30 seconds to rewind the tape (digital or otherwise) and check to see if said person did indeed pay for it.

  17. dailycaveat on June 18th, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

    Someone has been reading too much Consumerist. Are we really supposed to sympathize with you? Because of your pridefulness you wasted a lot of time for a lot of people, all of whom were just doing their jobs. What part of not showing or possessing a receipt did you not understand? Why didn’t you just march back inside to your cashier with the manager in tow and make the situation go away? Wouldn’t that have been much easier than treating all of these folks like you are so superior that their rules don’t apply to you? Is there some reason why saying, "I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. Why don’t we go speak to the cashier, who will be able to straighten this out," was off the table? Perhaps your description sells your actions and demeanor short but you’re the one who comes off looking like a thuggish boor in the above write-up. You really devoted 1,200 words to this indulgent travelogue of your own self-importance? I can’t wait to see you treatise on warrant-less wiretaps.

  18. Officer slams teen’s face into a wal « (pingback) on June 20th, 2008 @ 9:48 am

    […] Detained by Montgomery County Police For Buying Sugar […]

  19. Officer slams teen’s face into a wall « (pingback) on June 20th, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    […] Detained by Montgomery County Police For Buying Sugar […]

  20. matertua on June 22nd, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

    Here’s the solution – don’t shop at Walmart. It’s simple. Don’t give them your money otherwise you don’t have much of right to complain. They drive small stores out of business and destroy local economies. They hire illegal aliens. They do their best to never pay benefits. They buy plastic crap from China. Use your money to shop at your neighbors’ stores and keep your dollars in your town.

  21. muddygeek on June 25th, 2008 @ 12:38 am

    The comments to this article disturbed me enough to actually sign up on an account on a site I’ll probably never visit again.

    The real issue here is not about theft. Nor is it about convenience. This is a constitutional matter. United States citizens are guaranteed the freedom from warrantless search.

    Let me put this into perspective. Stores checking every receipt is no different than police going door to door, searching each home without probable cause for any possible illegal activity. Yes, I’m sure the police would in turn find some illegal possessions. Sure, the could find drugs or weapons, perhaps even find terrorists. Now picture that being your home. You are sitting down eating dinner, the evening news talking about the lovely weather. Suddenly, the police demand entrance into your home to search it. They don’t know whether or not you have anything unlawful. They just know that some people do have such possessions. If you say no, they knock down the door and search anyway. They would look through all the personal belongings. They would dump out doors, rip out walls if needed. Do you think that is really right and lawful? Even Constitutional?

    Now picture that with a Wal-Mart employee searching your home, checking your receipts, verifying all your furnishings and clothing, housewares and tools, even electronics came from Wal-Mart. You wouldn’t have that now would you?

    I don’t care if you like Wal-Mart, Target, or whomever. I don’t care if you think you really save yourself tons of money there. Wal-Mart is one of the most efficient companies on this planet. My position is not against Wal-Mart, it is against unlawful search.

  22. RumorsDaily (doorframe) on June 25th, 2008 @ 4:34 am

    Uh, Walmart is not the government. They can ask to let you do whatever searches they want. This is not a Constitutional issue at all.

  23. muddygeek on June 26th, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

    That’s a lovely argument but businesses cannot restrict legal rights. On your grounds, I can search you without reason because I am not the government. Courts have repeatedly extended legal rights beyond what the Constitution and Bill of Rights have originally extended. Take for example, the phrase "Congress shall not…" When originally Congress could not legislate laws contrary to that but those rights could have been denied by others, the Courts in turn have stated the rights extend to all US citizens regardless of who is trying to denying them.

  24. Don (dc_don) on June 26th, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

    Uh, Walmart is not the government. They can ask to let you do whatever searches they want.

    Yep, and I can ask you to give me $20. We can both say no.

    The problem is when the asker goes beyond asking. Like unlawfully detaining someone, or forcing them to have over that sawbuck.

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