This guy was trying to make strawberry jam this morning, and he had to go buy 4 bags of sugar. The cashier threw away the original receipt but put the sugar in a couple of Wal-Mart shopping bags, so Ben left the store thinking everything was, you know, normal for a Saturday morning. Then he was stopped by a security guard, a store manager, and an off-duty police officer, all of whom went batshit crazy on Ben over his 4 bags of sugar and lack of receipt. Before it was over one of the shopping bags was ripped open, a bag of sugar lay broken open on the parking lot, the guard had threatened to kick Ben’s ass, and the police officer said, “you’d better not be lying to me.” Ben was marched back into the store so they could verify with his cashier that he wasn’t a sugar thief. Welcome to Wal-Mart, the police-state superstore where prices are low and civil rights don’t exist.
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.
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.
If you defend Wal-Mart for this treatment of an average customer, you are a slave. There are other ways to prevent shoplifting. How about the security guard follows the suspected shoplifter to his car to take down his license plate while radioing someone in the store to confirm whether or not his story is legit? Besides that, Ben had four bags of sugar in Wal-Mart branded plastic bags—the likelihood that he was shoplifting them was low, and the value of the sugar to the store was virtually nonexistent compared to other merchandise that was and is probably being stolen from Wal-Marts all over America this weekend. No matter how belligerent a customer is in this situation, the guard, manager, and officer should remember that if the customer is innocent, he has a right to be belligerent and offended that he’s being harrassed to such a degree—especially over something as trivial as four bags of sugar.
Update: Ben wrote back to us, “To their credit, they did replace the bag of sugar.”
“Detained by Montgomery County Police For Buying Sugar” [Metblogs] (Thanks to everyone who sent this in!)