74-Year-Old Man Jailed For Shoplifting $3 Sirloin

A North Carolina Food Lion called the cops on Joe Neal for pocketing a $3 steak. The 74-year-old didn’t have enough change to pay for the sirloin, which he intended to cook for his son’s birthday dinner. The steak was later consumed, not by Joe’s son, but by a fire that ravaged Joe’s house. The cops were summoned when Neal returned to the store to pay for the steak. Defending the arrest, Food Lion’s press-keepers explained that the store has a zero tolerance policy. Don’t miss WBTV’s expert analysis at the end.

Gastonia Man in Jail for Stolen Steak [WBTV] (Thanks To Chris)


Edit Your Comment

  1. punkrawka says:

    So… shoplifting should be OK when it’s done by an old person who later suffers a completely unrelated personal tragedy?

  2. rasbach says:

    I agree, go directly to jail!

  3. jaydez says:

    Shoplifting is wrong by any means for any reason. The store was right to have him arrested.

  4. homerjay says:

    Uncle Leo???

    I’m an old man. I’m confused! I thought I paid for it. What’s my name? Will you take me home?

  5. azntg says:

    Low. Really low. Over a $3 item?

    That man shouldn’t have stolen in the first place, but at least he went back to make good (as opposed to going back to steal some more) and the asshat calls in the police long after the fact?

    I hope they take a good PR hit.

    • davec05301987 says:

      Doesn’t matter how much the item is. Shoplifting is shoplifting. I have sent people to jail for stealing a pack of gum. If the man was to poor to afford the steak he should have just asked the manager for help. Food Lion is always helping people who need it! My employer had every right to call him out on it. I would have done the same if it would have happened at my store. And…since he is 74 he’s been around long enough to know the difference between right and wrong.

  6. weg1978 says:

    Too bad the town isn’t called “Gastronia”…that would be funny. Don’t steal things…ever.

  7. Jon Mason says:

    …he got CAUGHT stealing a $3 steak. If the guy is 70 and stealing steaks, I would put my reputation on the line and say that it probably isn’t the first thing he has stolen.

    The store is right for having him arrested. They do not determine the punishment. Given that there seems to be no question of his guilt, seems that the police/judge would be the ones to determine the severity of any eventual punishment – and thus the ones to blame if it was excessive.

  8. Falconfire says:

    @punkrawka: I think the point is, it was a waste of taxpayers money. Typically when your caught shoplifting, if its under a certain amount, they let you go possibly with a ban from the store, and take back the merchandise. They rarely press charges unless its over a certain dollar amount because it costs them more to go through the effort than the actual item cost.

    That being said, what makes this particular story idiotic is the guy was going to pay them back, and they arrested him THEN. If he had never said anything they would have just pocketed it as a loss and thats it…

  9. firefoxx66 says:

    Did anyone know he’d stolen it before he came back to the store and tried to pay for it? If no one had, then I agree, let him pay, and let him go. If he tries it again, arrest him. But come on, $3? One time? Comes back with the money and honest intention to pay? Do we REALLY need to put our tax dollars towards and clog up the legal system more for THIS??

  10. Falconfire says:

    and just to add, in a number of states, unless it was over a certain dollar amount, the store COULD NOT press charges and have the guy arrested, zero tolerance or not for the specific reason of its a waste of taxpayer money to arrest and book someone for “petty theft” which is what this would have amounted to on the books.

  11. faust1200 says:

    I have zero tolerance for “zero tolerance policies.” Holy crap I’m being eaten by a paradox.

  12. evslin says:

    That’ll teach those damn kids a lesson they won’t soon forget!

    Wait, what?

  13. elsux0r says:

    The store had every right to do what they did. Whether you’re 74 or 14, shoplifting is wrong and prosecution is necessary.

  14. veraikon says:

    Wow, this story is just kind of pathetic. He “had” to steal a steak for his son’s birthday and then his house burned down. What a trainwreck.

  15. shan6 says:

    @masonreloaded: He didn’t get caught, he came back and admitted it, without ever being questioned. He admitted it was wrong, and came back to try to make it right, having him ARRESTED is not proportional to the crime here.

  16. KittensRCute! says:

    no mind he didnt get caught stealing it, he was arrested when he returned to try to pay for it. so the store has a zero tolerance policy on paying retribution? WTF? so the message here is if you steal it and dont get caught dont return with payment or retribution… now that does not seem like the best policy.

  17. humphrmi says:

    @shan6: Having criminals arrested for breaking the law IS proportional to the crime. At minimum, this guy should end up with a criminal record, just so he never tries this crap again. I’m not saying he should serve jail time, but a record needs to be maintained of his indiscretion.

    He has not yet been tried or sentenced. Putting him in prison for 30 years would NOT be proportional to the crime. Let’s let the crimal justice system work here, if the guy gets more than community service or a suspended sentence for this, then let the outrage begin.


  18. GameVoid says:

    If the dude was 36, or 18, would this have been posted? This is 2007, not 1807, people who are 74 these days are still scuba diving, parasailing, and leading Onyxia raids in World of Warcraft. Implying that arresting someone for shoplifting is wrong just cause they are 74 is age discrimination.

  19. nutrigm says:

    is that karma or what?!

  20. polyeaster says:

    What kind of steak only costs $3?

  21. headon says:

    FoodLion = Asshats

  22. Propaniac says:

    I can’t watch the video here at work so I don’t know if it has more information, but from the text it isn’t very clear what happened directly prior to the arrest; I got the impression that when he walked back into the store, he was recognized by employees as the guy who had stolen the steak earlier and police were called immediately, and he said afterward that he had come back to pay for it (which may or may not be true). That seems much more reasonable to me than if the guy came up to a register or the manager, confessed to stealing the steak and said he wanted to pay for it, and the cops were called based on his confession, which would be pretty stupid. Shoplifting’s always going to happen; there’s no reason to punish the person who tries to rectify their wrongdoing, while all the people who don’t come back and confess get off scot-free.

  23. Why didn’t he go back home for the money first and then buy the steak? I don’t get it.

  24. dame1234 says:

    @polyeaster: good point.

  25. @polyeaster: The kind that’s small and about to hit the sell by date (and therefore gets a Manager’s discount).

  26. humphrmi says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Don’t you get it? He was buying the steak for his son! Not himself! And he’s 74! And later, his house burned down! You’re supposed to have tears in your eyes right now, not bogging us down with facts!

  27. savvy999 says:

    When I was like 8 I took a dog whistle from a grocery store. Don’t know why, just did. My mom found it, and after a little beating, frog-marched me back to the store to give it back and apologize directly the manager. I was terrified, and never shoplifted again.

    Knowing now, that going back to the store to make simple amends can cause one to go to jail, I’m going to tell my kids to keep whatever they lift. (After the mandatory beatings, of course.)

    Way to go, Food Lion!

  28. Falconfire says:

    @Propaniac: He was never recognized, he admitted to stealing the steak and was going to pay them back for it since he didnt have the money at that time and was detained. The police where called and against their wishes forced to arrest the guy because the store wanted to press charges.

  29. Freedomboy says:

    What have we learned here? Keep the steak and eat it. 3 bucks huh? About the value of man’s pride? Seems about right,………there.

  30. machete_bear says:

    @polyeaster: Skirt steak is pretty cheap, it’s the esophagus i believe.

    Most places have tiny cuts in the 2.50-$4 department, you just have to be willing to eat a bit of questionable cow.

  31. @Propaniac: It’s hard to tell from the video. At first, from what the female reporter first says, it sounds like the arrest came from the confession. But later when the on-the-scene guy is relating what happened he only says that a produce manager insisted on calling the police after he came back to the store. He doesn’t say whether they talked first, but it kinda sounds like they did.

    The cops did ask if they were sure they wanted to press charges though.

  32. Buran says:

    @azntg: Yeah, no kidding. Stealing the steak in the first place was wrong, but the guy realized that and tried to make it right, and that’s when honesty gets you kicked in the ass. Again.

    Seems like being a dishonest crook is OK, but try to do something honest in society today and they’ll call the pitbulls on you.

  33. PinkBox says:

    I was born in Gastonia. There are a lot of very low income families there. I find this story pretty sad, especially since he tried to go back to pay for it.

  34. cmdr.sass says:

    I don’t consider having a petty thief prosecuted to be a waste of taxpayer’s money.

  35. JollyJumjuck says:

    Too bad he wasn’t a young female Hollywood or music celebrity. They wouldn’t have done a damned thing in that case.

  36. DallasDMD says:

    @humphrmi: “Having criminals arrested for breaking the law IS proportional to the crime”

    So why aren’t speeders arrested?

    “At minimum, this guy should end up with a criminal record, just so he never tries this crap again. I’m not saying he should serve jail time, but a record needs to be maintained of his indiscretion.”

    Why? Has the store seen this man before? Is he known for causing problems, or was this a one-time indiscretion? The fact that he tried to make his wrong right doesn’t support the idea that he is a habitual criminal.

    “Let’s let the crimal justice system work here, if the guy gets more than community service or a suspended sentence for this, then let the outrage begin.”

    Whatever happened to letting gentlemen work out their differences?

    Do you take your neighbors to court every time you have a minor disagreement with them?


    Sheesh yourself. You think that the only way to have meaningful social interaction in society is to get law enforcement involved for every dispute, no matter the scope or severity.

  37. goodywitch says:

    He had too much pride to borrow $ from his kids, so he shoplifted instead?

  38. DallasDMD says:

    If you are outraged by this, contact Food Lion and let them know that you will not be shopping at their stores until they apologize for the situation.

    Let them know that as responsible members of the community they should act with an ounce of compassion.


  39. xanax25mg says:

    Consumerist should have also included in the headline “Cancer-Survivor”, beacuse that would have made it ok to steal the steak

  40. Trauma_Hound says:

    Uh why is this on the Consumerist? You refuse to post about the Vonage outage and the terrible customer service which would be a consumerist article. So why is shop lifting supposed to be a bad customer service issue again? He broke the law, he should go to jail.

  41. nycguy says:

    Who wants to start a pool to see how long that food lion store will last in that town?

  42. Trauma_Hound says:

    @DallasDMD: No, he broke the law.

  43. xanax25mg says:

    @DallasDMD: So you’re outraged that Food Lion wants to keep costs low by prosecuting shoplifters? What if he was 27 and not 74? You’re comfortable with someone running around out there that thinks it’s ok to steal if they don’t have the money and will pay back “when they get a chance” (which is what he said in the video). Maybe a 20 year old meth head that wants to steal from Food Lion will see the news and think twice about doing it because Food Lion are badasses enough to send grampa to jail.

  44. Jon Mason says:

    @DallasDMD: On the other hand, if you believe that people who steal are scum and should be punished accordingly, keep shopping there.

    To suggest that a store should apologize for calling the police on a shoplifter is asinine, pure and simple, whether he is 7,27 or 74. Having worked in retail I saw these kinds of cases all the time – people young and old claiming it was a “one time indiscretion” and they won’t do it again. You know a good method to make sure they don’t? Call the police on their worthless, stealing ass.

  45. xanax25mg says:

    @cmdr.sass: so let’s say you had a bicycle on your front porch that you got on sale at walmart for $40 and I walked up and took it. Now this is petty thievery, are you fine with ignoring it? Because it would cost as much to prosecute me as it would the $3 steak guy. Or what if I decided to just ride around for 2 weeks, then come back and give it to you. Would you not be pissed? I mean I did intend to return it once I was done. Oh, but because Food Lion is a big company, they should tolerate theives more than you?

  46. FessLove says:

    Shoplift: “To steal merchandise from a store that is open for business” -www.dictionary.com

    I read over the entire definition and didnt see a single age requirement for shoplifting. Seems to me like anyone who steals “merchandise from a store that is open for business” should be charged with shoplifting. Age doesnt make theft ok

  47. Hawk07 says:

    Just calling the cops to the scene and hauling him to jail probably cost $3 in gas.

  48. DallasDMD says:

    @Trauma_Hound: Your point?

  49. humphrmi says:


    “So why aren’t speeders arrested?”

    Because speeding is not a felony.

    “Why [should he end up with a criminal record]? Is he known for causing problems, or was this a one-time indescretion?”

    How do we know, until he has a criminal record? Are we all allowed to commit felonies *once* without reprecussions?

    “Whatever happened to letting gentlemen work out their differences?”

    A gentleman does not steal food because he forgot his wallet. A gentleman goes home, gets his money, and goes back to the store to buy the steak. Gentlemen are welcome to work out their differences, but criminals need to learn their lesson.

    This wasn’t a minor disagreement. For crying out loud, he took something that didn’t belong to him. You live in a different world. Get over it.

  50. DallasDMD says:

    @fesslove: The difference is that the man tried to pay for his steak after the fact, and that the goods stolen were not expensive. The store could have accepted the man’s apology and promise not to do it again, but instead they overreacted by getting law enforcement involved.

    I don’t care about his age, its the fact that the store overreacted in a situation that could have been easily rectified without encouraging shoplifting or letting real criminals go free.

  51. Hawk07 says:

    We’ll see if the DA prosecutes. Some of the comments here are pretty funny from those who think we should throw the book at him. I wouldn’t be surprised that on his first night in jail, he gets served a $3 steak paid for by our tax dollars. I think Joe is going to have the last laugh on this one.

  52. DallasDMD says:

    @humphrmi: “Because speeding is not a felony.”

    Stealing a $3 steak is not a felony.

    “How do we know, until he has a criminal record? Are we all allowed to commit felonies *once* without reprecussions?”

    The store can remember if he pulled this trick or not. What kind of shoplifting operation involves people stealing $3 steaks, one at a time, and then returning later to pay for them? I’m having a hard time seeing a legitimate need for law enforcement in this situation.

    Anyway, its not a felony.

    “A gentleman does not steal food because he forgot his wallet. A gentleman goes home, gets his money, and goes back to the store to buy the steak. Gentlemen are welcome to work out their differences, but criminals need to learn their lesson.”

    People are not perfect. When a man fesses up and acts honorably to the person he wronged, a gentleman will accept it and seeing that he was hardly hurt, will not seek revenge.

    “This wasn’t a minor disagreement. For crying out loud, he took something that didn’t belong to him. You live in a different world. Get over it.”

    Yes, I do live in a different world; a world where basic social interactions do not depend on law enforcement at every turn. Get over it!

  53. bglav says:

    So, a $3 steak is going to cost hundreds, probably thousands to the taxpayers in time spent, court costs, etc…

  54. DallasDMD says:

    @Hawk07: Good point. More resources were wasted by:

    1. the manager calling police (his time involved in making the phone call and giving a report most assuredly cost more than $3)
    2. the cost of the officers’ time
    3. the cost of fuel

    than the value of the steak, of which the man TRIED TO PAY FOR!

    This is the problem with people in modern society. People have grown up in secluded lives where social interactions only revolve around bureaucracies and rules; not ones where the creed of men among men rule. Thus, these people fail totally when it comes to interacting with people on any sort of intimate level occurs or tries to occur.

  55. newspapersaredead says:

    If I was the owner/manager of a competing grocery store in that town I would make a donation to the guy, or maybe a restaurant could donate free steak dinners for him and the kids. The free publicity that would result would shame the grocery store into dropping this stupid case. Yes stealing is wrong. All they had to do is tell him that they will have their eye on him whenever he is shopping there and won’t hesitate to prosecute him if he does it again. I have a feeling the message would’ve gotten across and the store wouldn’t have this unnecessary bad publicity. The grocery store can stick to it’s principle if it wants, but it’s a bad business decision.

  56. @KittensRCute!: “so the store has a zero tolerance policy on paying retribution?”

    I know, that would seem to me to seriously discourage the kind of responsible parenting where you make your 8-year-old with the grabby hands return the stolen comic book and apologize to the store before doing two weeks of yardwork.

    And how many times have you walked out of a store with something that didn’t get scanned or scanned wrong, and you don’t notice until you check your receipt later? Am I going to get arrested if I go back to correct and pay for THAT error?

  57. @savvy999: LOL, gmta!

  58. Hawk07 says:



    It’s not cheap to arrest somebody, especially over something so petty. While I don’t want to sound like a bleeding heart, I think 95% of DA’s out there would laugh at this case.

  59. youbastid says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: There are some old people that still believe that stores aren’t as ridiculously possessive of their probably-about-to-expire products. In the old days, of course, you could walk into a store and if they knew you and you didn’t have enough money, they’d let you pay later. That was probably the principle this guy was operating on since he came back to pay for the steak. Not only did he come back to pay for it, but he remembered to do it after his house burned down. I don’t consider what he did stealing at all. Dick move by Food Lion.

  60. karmaghost says:

    I think this was stupid on Food Lion’s part; I often have customers that come back into the store wanting to pay for an item they forgot to take out of the cart and didn’t get charged for it. Most people would just keep on going but some people do feel bad about it. Technically, what they did was steal it but of course we don’t call the cops on them because it was an honest mistake. With a policy like Food Lion’s, people would probably be less apt to return to the store and be honest.

    On the other hand, this dude clearly stole the steak on purpose, regardless of whether he planned on coming back to pay for it. The fact that his house burned down has nothing to do with anything. Food Lion probably should have shown more discretion in this particular instance, but that’s their right to do whatever they want.

  61. WV.Hillbilly says:

    Not only would I have had him arrested, I’d have tazed the old bastard as well.

    He’s a thief. He belongs in jail, regardless of his age.

  62. Rick Rockwell says:

    Reminds me of the Andy Griffith Show where Barney fills the jail with jaywalkers and litterers while Andy is away, and upsets the whole town.
    Andy would have had the guy pay for the steak, told him not to do it again, and sent him home. End of drama.

  63. humphrmi says:

    “Stealing a $3 steak is not a felony.”

    Whatever, the point is, it’s a crime, as opposed to a moving violation, which is what you tried to call it.

    If he deserves a break, that should happen in court, not decided arbitrarily just because he went back and fessed up to his crime. Criminals should be aware that when they confess, they will pay the penalty for their crime. It happens 100% of the time without exception. Just because you feel remorse about your crime and fess up later doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be arrested for it.

  64. cmdr.sass says:

    @xanax25mg: I think you need to work on your reading comprehension.

  65. FessLove says:

    The problem is, where do you draw the line on what to prosecute? Its ok to steal a $3 dollar steak, but how about a $4 dollar one? Or an $8 one? This is clear cut people. He was old enough to understand what he was doing is wrong, he had intent, and an admission of guilt. No, its not the most economic case to prosecute, but the fact is, theft is theft. I don’t think he should be locked up for 20 years, but I think he should probably get a short probation or some community service. If its known that Food Lion doesn’t prosecute for theft under $3 dollars, theres gonna be a lot of $3 and under good missing, and it will add up to a good chunk of change.
    And him coming back to pay for they steak later is nothing but an admission of guilt. If I stole a care, but returned it later and apologized, I am quite confident I would still be prosecuted.

  66. FessLove says:

    ermm, if I stole a car*

  67. youbastid says:

    @fesslove: Apparently since 9/11, the ability to critically view any situation in shades other than black and white has deteriorated in the general public. Yeah, if you had stolen a car and brought it back, you would be prosecuted. But this guy didn’t steal a car. Or a bike. It’s not the same. It was a $3 steak that he made good on.
    “How about a $4 one? Or an $8 one?” is irrelevant. He took a $3 one. And came back to pay for it.

  68. Freedomboy says:

    This local store is famous for donating tot he local por and near poor right? right? right?

    Been poor, never had to steal food, but been poor. The most lonely feeling possible since you know the truth and this country and economy make it impossible to feel anything other than failure at being so and offer less than nothing to help.

    The only way out of poor town is to actually get up and leave and the tools for leaving are hard to get and even harder to implement.

  69. FessLove says:

    So is everyone allowed to take $3 items as long as they plan on coming back to pay for it later?

  70. So why is shop lifting supposed to be a bad customer service issue again?

    @Trauma_Hound: The article has a “Bad Consumer” tag and a “Shoplifting” tag, not a “Bad Customer Service” tag.

    The opinions expressed in the articles and videos they link to are not necessarily ones they agree with.

  71. firesign says:

    @youbastid: so because he admitted guilt by going back to pay for it later, it was ok to steal it in the first place. i get it now. that’s the grey area. i’ll be sure to tell the store and the cops that if i ever get busted for stealing food.

  72. deserthiker says:

    Zero tolerance equals zero common sense.

    It is zero tolerance that suspends a six year old from school for having a butter knife in his lunch to spread something on his bread. NO weapons!

    It is zero tolerance that expels a young boy from school for kissing a little girl on the cheek. NO sexual harassment!

    It is zero tolerance that ARRESTS an old man for PETTY theft when he return to pay for the item he lifted. The store manager would have done well to talk to the man, accept his payment and tell him not to do it again. That would have been a sensible thing to do.

    I do not have a Food Lion near me (aren’t they the store that used to “recycle” expired meat?) but if I did I would not shop there. I would be afraid that if my kid stole a pack of gum–something kids do since they lack impulse control–and then felt bad and returned it, he would be arrested.

    Let the punishment fit the crime is a maxim based on common sense. Zero tolerance is based on not having any sense, common or otherwise.

  73. youbastid says:

    @firesign: No, the gray area was that it was a cheap piece of meat, he truly intended to pay for it, as he proved by coming back and paying for it, and it’s more than likely that he’s probably operating on an outdated set of social rules. That’s the gray area. That’s why he didn’t need to get arrested.

  74. Sifl says:

    @Fesslove: I completely agree with your point of Theft is Theft. I mean, I think it’s truly sad the guy is 74 and felt he just “HAD” to go steal the steak.. but if he could come back to pay for it soon after, he had every reason to have gone back home and gotten the money in the first place. I mean sure, he’d be a bit later, but an apology to his son.. “Sorry son, forgot my wallet at home and had to go back for it. Now let’s cook this sucker up! Happy Birthday!”..

    Sadly… a friend has it truly right… “Common sense isn’t.” [sigh]

  75. coren says:

    I blame the steak. If it didn’t look so delicious, he never would have taken it.

  76. firesign says:

    @coren: yeah, blame the victim. how typical.

  77. watchout5 says:

    I don’t see how anyone can justify calling the police on him, it’s a $3 steak and it should have been handled without getting the police involved. Make him pay for the steak and tell him to never get close to the store ever again or you’ll call the cops for trespassing. For the amount of horrible PR this has got that $3 steak loss for the company will have turned into a $20,000 loss of profits for the company from all this. It looks like a small town were everyone knows everyone, we’re not trying to say that stealing is right in anyway shape or form, we’re trying to say that law enforcement shouldn’t get involved for such a petty matter.
    I think if it’s really worthwhile for the store to go after him they should have to pay for the officers and courts time in 100% full for it being such a huge fucking waste of time.
    No matter how it actually is, this is how it looks.
    “Honest man arrested today for trying to pay for a $3 steak”. Who wants to shop at a store with a catch phrase like that?

  78. forgottenpassword says:

    I agree that shoplifting is wrong no matter what! BUT the manager could have not been such an anal prick considering that the guy came back later (on his own) to pay for it. At MOST the guy could have been banned from the store , but NOT arrested for shoplifting a steak that he later payed for when he had the money.

    “intent” should be considered in this case.

  79. firesign says:

    @youbastid: so he couldnt go home first, get the money, and go back and buy it? bullshit. it’s the same number of trips. outdated social rules? i’m 53 years old, and i don’t remember stealing *anything* being socially acceptable. stealing it from a supermarket is *not* the same as when you could go to the owner of a mom & pop store and say “put this on my bill” and pay for it later. did he go to the store manager and ask to do that? apparently not, and i doubt the manager would’ve agreed to it.

  80. “How about a $4 one? Or an $8 one?” is irrelevant.

    @youbastid: No it’s not. The store does have to consider what will happen if they let this guy go and someone else does the same thing with an item that costs more.

    If they don’t press charges against this man over a $3 steak but do press charges against someone else over a $5 they leave themselves open to being accused of discrimination.

    The store would probably rather be seen as overreacting than to be seen as racist because the $5 steak person happened to be black or sexist because they happened to be female, etc.

  81. I’d question the quality of that steak if it’s only priced at $3…

    The real question here is, “Was the punishment reasonable for the crime committed?” I think we all agree that a crime was committed, as this man clearly took an item from the store without paying for it. That is the black and white definition of shoplifting, which is a crime.

    In order to determine the level of punishment, we must take into consideration the circumstances of the crime, mainly the type and value of the item stolen. Here we’re looking at a $3 steak. We’re also looking at a man who returned to the store to pay for the steak, only to be arrested. This shows that his intent was not malicious.

    So, how do you handle this situation? Do you arrest him and put him in jail, justifying your decision on a “zero tolerance” policy? Does that sound like a reasonable punishment for anyone who stole a $3 item and returned to pay for it? How do you explain that to the taxpayers whose money went to punish a man for stealing $3 worth of merchandise?

    The bottom line: Yes, a crime was committed. Yes, those found guilty of a crime should receive some sort of punishment. But the law is not black and white, and all punishment should be within reason. This punishment was not.

  82. Falconfire says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: The only problem with your statement is all of them would be considered petty theft, and thus any of those prices would be “overreacting” in a lot of states.

    The threshold of petty theft is pretty high. In NJ I believe its $150, meaning anything under that is considered petty and for the most part, a waste of time prosecuting.

  83. Jon Mason says:

    @busydoingnothing: But again, the store does not decide the punishment, they only called the police – what happens after that is not up to them.

  84. youbastid says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Yep, it is. Here’s why. When they DON’T prosecute an old man to the fullest extent of the law for stealing a $3 steak, thereby enforcing a retarded zero-tolerance policy, then the news vans DON’T show up at their door. When that doesn’t happen, then *tada!* nobody knows about it, so there isn’t some mad rush to Food Lion to try to steal anything and everything worth $3 or less. They aren’t *seen* as anything. I agree with all the previous posters that zero tolerance means zero common sense.
    @firesign: This guy is 21 years older than you are. There’s a generation between you. I’m sure in retrospect, he would have done things in the order you suggested, but the order he did things made sense to him. He didn’t come back because he was sorry he stole – he came back because he had always intended to pay.

  85. @Rectilinear Propagation: You’re basing your justification for this man’s punishment on the assumption that someone is going to steal a higher dollar item in the future? That’s quite a slippery slope you have going there. Do you believe his punishment was reasonable and just?

  86. somecop says:

    @WV.Hillbilly: Has anyone else noticed the sharp decline in intelligent comments posted on this site of late? It used to be that there were few people allowed to comment on an article and everything written was supposed to be intelligent and stand out from the retards that post comments on other websites.

    As for the damn steak…if I were him I would plead not guilty. A confession absent any sort of evidence is no good. Where’s the evidence the steak was stolen in the first place? I don’t remember the news story saying they served a search warrant on his burned-down house to retrieve the steak.

    This is a complete waste of law enforcement and prosecutor’s limited resources. You tards that say “a crime is a crime!” are the same sort of people that want me to complete an incident report because some punk kid squeeled his tires in front of your house. Grow up.

  87. coan_net says:

    I like to see how many people here think it is OK since it was only $3.

    My question – what is the cut off?

    Is it OK for me to go steal $5 worth of stuff?

    How about $10 – I mean that would be OK, right?

    If $10, well pretend there are 2 people – can I steal $20?

    What if I had a family of 5, is stealing $50 OK then?

    Well my family of 5 & my neighbor family of 5 – I guess it is OK to steal $100 of stuff.

    Tell you what, there are about 10 families on my block – each with 5 people in their families – so I guess $500 worth of stuff is OK.

    There is around 5,000 people in my town – is it OK for each to steal $3 worth of stuff ($15,000 total) – I guess it would be, since it was “only $3”

    Stealing is stealing…. calling the cops on him, YEA – good job… even though I would hate to see him do real jail time with so many other bad guys out there – but a good fine, and possible community service would be a good punishment.

  88. clinky says:

    According to other news reports, it was just a misdemeanor ticket, and the store has since withdrawn the charges and donated $100 to a local food bank.

    The guy probably could have gotten out of it if anyway, once he realized they were calling the police, to say “No, you misunderstood me. I didn’t say I took the steak, I just wanted to buy the $3 steak I saw yesterday.” If he denied it to the police, and there was no evidence, no steak at the store and no one saw him do it (presumably), they probably wouldn’t even have ticketed him.

  89. KogeLiz says:

    Keep throwing everyone in jail.
    Obviously this man is a threat to the public!!

  90. When that doesn’t happen, then *tada!* nobody knows about it…

    @youbastid: The same way nobody finds out about the Above and Beyond stuff that Consumerist puts on this blog? You mean like that?

    Just because something doesn’t make the news (and this might have anyway since the man’s house burned down) doesn’t mean that no one finds out about it. Word of mouth still exists and works. If they start making exceptions people will find out about it.

  91. aka Cat says:

    @faust1200: you win. :)

    What gets me about this isn’t that he ‘only’ stole a $3 item. It’s that he was arrested when he returned to pay for it.

  92. youbastid says:

    @coan_net: A) Thank you for making the exact stupid point that 10 other people have made already. Let’s counter it. What if he stole a gumball from the bulk candy aisle? That’s worth about 2 cents, why not call the cops then?
    B) Why do people think that the good solution is to call the cops, but not to throw them in jail? Isn’t that why people call the cops? Also, in my experience I know that cops LOVE it when people tell them how to do their job.

  93. @masonreloaded: The store could have chose not to get the police involved. The store also could have also asked the police to go easy on the guy. Again, the law is not black and white.

  94. @coan_net: The slippery slope is a logical fallacy. Try again.

  95. youbastid says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: It’s not making an exception to take the money and tell the guy “please never do it again/never come back here again.” Somehow, many, many successful stores across the nation have operated on this policy without being looted or calling the cops.

  96. That’s quite a slippery slope you have going there.

    @busydoingnothing: Well you’re using a strawman so I guess we’re even. I don’t even mention his punishment in the comment you’re replying to.

  97. @Rectilinear Propagation: You state, “If they don’t press charges over a $3 steak, but … then …” Am I wrong in deducting from your statement that you support the decision to press charges against him? Is that not his punishment?

  98. @youbastid: Off topic, but the comment youbastid is replying to that belongs to me disappears when the comments are nested.

  99. @fesslove: That’s actually an extremely EASY line to draw. Laws (and corporate policies) are all about drawing arbitrary lines where we think they’re most appropriate, then trying to provide enough flexibility in how they’re applied to deal with the marginal cases.

    As a store, a zero-tolerance policy for everything costing a penny or more may be all well and good, but if I’m a prosecutor (in my low-cost county), I’m sure as hell not wasting taxpayer money on anything under $25, and then only because the vast majority of my shoplifting offenders at $25 will be going through teen court.

    Obviously what he did was wrong, but the response was completely nonsensical in the true sense — utterly lacking in sense. Waste of taxpayer money, waste of police time, and ignores perfectly good punishments available to the store WITHOUT resorting to calling the cops, such as banning the man from the store in the future.

    Honestly, Food Lion stole a lot more in police time/dollars from the taxpayer than that man stole from Food Lion. Which doesn’t make what he did RIGHT, but it makes Food Lion’s response stupid and wasteful.

  100. coan_net says:

    @busydoingnothing: Yes, “The slippery slope is a logical fallacy.”

    That was the point… I was pointing out how stupid it was.

    The law is the law – he stole. He suffers the for his own actions. Simple as that until people start saying “Oh, it was only $3”, “well he is an old man”, etc…

  101. waxigloo says:

    I am guessing no one will give a crap, especially since from a quick google maps search, it seems to be the only grocery store in the downtown area.

  102. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    This story totally reminds me of when Johnny Knoxville dresses up as an old man and starts lifting stuff from a convenience store..

    Just saying…

  103. @youbastid: It is if you do it because what he took was cheap. That would be making an exception based on the cost of what was taken. If you do that then the question of, “Where’s the cut off?” becomes relevant.

  104. PinkBox says:

    @waxigloo: There are quite a few grocery stores in Gastonia, actually. It is only 30 mins or so south from Charlotte also.

  105. Sian says:

    @machete_bear: esophagus? skirt steak is from the plate primal. It’s good and flavorful but has a lot of connective tissue, and is generally marinated and sliced to deal with the toughness. A lot of fajita steak is flank steak. The stuff is great when prepared right.

  106. @busydoingnothing: Ah, it looks like we’re having a different understanding of the word “punishment”. I thought you meant whatever happened to him after he was arrested.

    My argument is that the slippery slope is not a fallacy in this case. A slippery slope is a fallacy when in a chain of arguments (A therefore B, B therefore C, C therefore D) one of the arguments has to be invalid.

    If you let the guy go because it was only $3, what happens in the case of a $5 theft is relevant. It matters because they based their decision on the cost of what was taken.

    I don’t like that they pressed charges against him but I get why they feel like they have to treat all instances of shoplifting the same way.

  107. youbastid says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Then when does the cut off become relevant to you? Had it been a 50 cent candybar that he came back to pay for, do you still think calling the police is justified? What about a couple grapes from the produce section? I’ll repeat my point: How come stores have magically turned a profit and not called the police in similar situations?
    If I had to guess, I’d say probably by evaluating shoplifting on a case by case basis instead of throwing up zero tolerance buillshit.

  108. just_paranoid says:

    i’m currently taking wagers on who will win the arguement……so far youbastid is favored 2 to 1!

  109. waxigloo says:

    I was about to write the same response, but I should correct you on one thing:

    Petty theft (value less than $1000 in NC) is not a felony it is a misdemeanor. Speending is an infraction (or petty offense) which is even lower down the poll than a misdemeanor. Furthermore, you CAN get arrested for speeding because if you speed fast enough (depending on the state) it becomes a misdemeanor or a felony.

    Otherwise, spot on…good reply.

  110. @Falconfire: $150 is an awful lot of money for a grocery store to let go, isn’t it?

  111. just_paranoid says:

    lets face it our system IS flawed and the punishment doesn’t always fit the crime. sorry to break it to some of you.

  112. Then when does the cut off become relevant to you?

    @youbastid: Why are you asking me? You’re the one who said, and I quote, How about a $4 one? Or an $8 one?” is irrelevant. How is that possible? If you’re letting it go because it’s $3 how can the question of $4 not matter?

  113. youbastid says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Thank you for quoting me, I meant exactly what I said. I was using your faulty argument to make a point. Duh.

  114. Thank you for quoting me, I meant exactly what I said.

    @youbastid: Well I’ll agree with you on the “Duh” part since I didn’t say that you meant something else.

    You still haven’t explained how my argument is faulty and how the dollar amount can be relevant and irrelevant at the same time.

  115. youbastid says:

    Your argument is that you can’t let someone go for a $3 item because what happens when it’s $4, or $8, and you claim that there shouldn’t be a “cutoff.” This is faulty because if that’s the case, then by your rationale, eating a few grapes should land you in jail.
    My argument is that the “$4 or $8” is irrelevant, because there are other factors at hand here, which I’ve gone into detail in previous comments.

  116. Your argument is that you can’t let someone go for a $3 item because what happens when it’s $4, or $8, and you claim that there shouldn’t be a “cutoff.”

    @youbastid: No it isn’t. I’ve never said you can’t let someone go at $4 or $8 or even $3. I’ve never argued that there shouldn’t be a cutoff.

    My argument is that the “$4 or $8” is relevant because you make it relevant when you let someone go based on how much they stole.

  117. @Rectilinear Propagation: OK, it sounded like I did here:

    If they don’t press charges against this man over a $3 steak but do press charges against someone else over a $5 they leave themselves open to being accused of discrimination.

    I was unclear. What I meant was that this is how the store looks at it.

  118. KogeLiz says:

    To people pro-“zero tolerance”

    I think you are missing the point.

    First of all, he came back to RETURN it.
    You would think the cops wouldnt be called because the guy had the balls to come back to the store and admit it.

    Second of all, situations like this clog up the jails and waste policemens time.

    Third of all, it makes for embarassing press on the store’s side of things.

    Forth of all, stories like these just go to show how sad things are in this country. People have steal food to celebrate birthdays.

    Oh man, only if I could steal oil for heating…

  119. damitaimee says:

    @jaydez: i’m not sure i can agree with you. when we spend our resources on petty crimes such as theft of a $3 item, we fill our jails with people who aren’t supposed to be there. we are always wasting our resources preying on the wrong people.

  120. VicMatson says:

    A while back I went through the checkout at Giant Foods and noticed that the half off items we’re ringing up at full price. After getting sort of a runaround I asked to talk to the manager, he told me it was a company wide computer error and headquarters told him to let it happen and take care of the complaints in the CS line. I asked him how different was this than if I left without paying and just said I would come back later. Then I told him that the police need to get involved because it is company wide theft, he went ballistic, told the checkout girls to tell customers what was going on , and refunded me my money!

    I guess they we’re trying not to backup the checkout lanes and pocket the thousands of loot!

  121. UpsetPanda says:

    @VicMatson: Refunded you what money? The items were ringing up at half price, was he manually typing in the half price in there so you wouldn’t pay the full price? How was he doing it? I know at my grocery store, there’s not a soul to help you when you’re in one of those self-scan lanes.

  122. dantsea says:

    There’s just so much stupid from all sides in this story I am almost rendered speechless.

  123. mgyqmb says:

    Is shoplifting one of those things that’s on The Bucket List?

  124. shufflemoomin says:

    Hold on now. Was he actually going back to pay for it, or was that his excuse after he was stupid enough to go back and was grabbed? Maybe he was going back to steal some sauce for the steak or something. We’ll never know…But still, if you’re gonna steal, steal something good. If you don’t have the money, come back later. He deserves punishment regardless of his age or the dollar amount of the item. He’s shown an ability to break and disregard for the law. He should be arrested and be sorry instead of going running to the local news looking for sympathy. In fact, just burn him on a cross…(Sorry, getting a little carried away here)

  125. ihateauditions says:

    I sincerely wish that there were two tax rates: One for sane people, and one for idiotic twits who think that it’s a good idea to spend thousands of public dollars to jail and prosecute a guy who came back to pay for a $3 steak.

    Top tip: If somebody steals $3 from your store, take their photo, ban them from the store, don’t waste my tax money.

  126. ihateauditions says:

    Oh, and I hope each and every one of you “they should be arrested” twits has a child who shoplifts and is arrested.

    That way you can spend thousands and thousands of dollars to keep your child’s life from being ruined by a $5 error.

    Maybe then you’ll realize why it is that you’re sociopathic idiots with no sense of proportion. But probably not.

  127. SOhp101 says:

    Meat is one of the most common items shoplifted from a market.

    What the man did was wrong, but he still was an idiot for going back and trying to pay for it. It annoys me more that the store would even call the cops for this incident… they should have just refused the money and asked him to never visit the store again.

  128. Smegzor says:

    That store sucks, but so does the country its in so it goes with the territory. It pays to be honest, but only in an honest country.

  129. humphrmi says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    if I’m a prosecutor (in my low-cost county), I’m sure as hell not wasting taxpayer money on anything under $25

    So, is (say) a tagger OK in your low-cost county? Hell, when they spray paint gang signs on your front porch, it might only cause $3 damage (the cost of paint to cover it), right? So, that’s OK? How ’bout if those gangbangers hang out in your front yard, since you’re so accommodating?

    OK fine this guy isn’t a gangbanger. But you’re drawing an arbitrary line somewhere here, and it’s a slippery slope getting the line drawn back to the side of law and order. One wrong step, and we’re in Pakistan, putting the rule of law on hold because we don’t like it.

  130. humphrmi says:

    @ihateauditions: If, G-d forbid, one of my sons ever does stray the wrong side of the law and tries shoplifting to get something he can’t afford, I hope that they arrest him and take his picture and finger prints and make him sit in a cell until I get good damn ready to come pick him up. Then he can get a job to pay off his own damn legal bills, as well as my gas to come pick him up. Maybe then he’ll appreciate the rule of law, or at least understand the consequences of violating it.

  131. Trauma_Hound says:

    @DallasDMD: How about this for a point. Are you saying it’s ok to come break into your house and take your stuff? I mean it’s the same logic.

  132. Trauma_Hound says:

    What kids? He’s freaking 74, his kids are long moved out. If he was hungry he should have gone to a food bank. So can I come break into your place and take your shit?

  133. Hawk07 says:

    I hope you folks who think we should throw the book at Joe never have had your car or house broken into and personal items stolen. If a car thief grabs your GPS or new iPod and you expect the police to open an investigation, they’ll laugh in your face. Your chances of ever recovering the goods are zero unless a crime ring is busted or the thief slips up.

  134. humphrmi says:

    @Hawk07: My car has been broken into twice. Both times, they broke a $25 wing window to get into my car before they realized that I don’t keep anything worth shit in it. In both cases, I had a spare car I could use, and asked the cops to run prints. It was like a scene out of The Big Lebowski when the cop says “Leads? Yeah, we got guys working shifts on it!” There are drug dealers in my neighborhood, so I figure (if they’re tracking these scumbags, as they say they are) they’ll get a hit from my car. Their response? They don’t want to waste their time on it. A $25 window ain’t worth their time, even if the drug dealers (who they have prints on file) did it. How would you feel if a cheap-ass $25 window was broken on your car or house and the cops said “Nah, it ain’t worth our time”? “Just give the guy who broke it a break”, right? Give the criminals a record? Eh? Nah, I’m sure they didn’t mean it. They’ll apologize, just as soon as they get caught, just like this 74 year-old guy who wants to feed his son Joe a steak. The steak you’re trying to sell Joe’s dad probably ain’t worth shit anyway and you should feel ashamed for trying to get money for it. It doesn’t matter that you feel violated because Joe’s dad stole stuff that you paid good money for, you should be thankful that Joe’s dad came back and offered you some money for it. Just shut up and act like a “gentleman” for crissake.

  135. chutch says:

    As usual, I’m chiming in late. Good: He returned to pay for the steak that he STOLE. Bad: F.L. then turned him over to police after he admitted the misdeed – like a common thief that they had personally caught.

    Food Lion had every right to expect punishment, but they did go a bit far in this case. They should have made him pay for the steak – and then banned him from coming to their store for a year (or some time frame).

    Age is not an issue. The fact his house burned is not an issue. It’s more an issue of a person did something that they shouldn’t have done, but tried to make good.

  136. chutch says:

    @humphrmi: I know a little about where you’re coming from. I had $200 worth of damage done to my vehicle when some P.O.S. decided to steal my $20 pool stick. The police were nice enough to tell me that they doubted I’d ever find out who did it. Gotta love positive attitudes.

  137. floydianslip6 says:


    I don’t care if he’s 5 years old stealing a dog whistle. If someone tries to make good on a crime through honesty he should still get maximum punishment.

    Know why his house burned down? Because he’s an evil shoplifter that should get the gas chamber.

  138. ShadowFalls says:


    I’d like to contact Food Lion and tell them I am no longer shopping at their stores. Unfortunately, they were such pieces of crap, they closed down all their stores in the area because no one shopped at them.

    In the end, I think we can agree that what he did in the first place was wrong. He even admitted stealing it was wrong. The issue is with the store. He came back to pay them for it, they overreacted completely, and here we are.

    Have any of you checked your receipt later and found the cashier didn’t ring up an item? Did you go back and try to make amends? After this incident, would you feel safe to do it after an incident like this?

    Sure the are not exactly comparable, but close enough. One was by intention, the other was not, but in the end you would still be considered shoplifting.

    So like I said, we all can agree that him stealing was wrong, but him coming back when he didn’t have to showed that he didn’t deserve the treatment the store gave him. Food Lion can go out of business for all I care. When they were open in my area, they were complete garbage.

  139. hossfly says:

    I deal with this crap everyday….. if you see it; deal with it NOW; if not, it didn’t happen!!
    Good case for a lawsuit…i’ve seen ’em happen for less.
    Yes, i have a grocery store.

  140. AlphaTeam says:

    I think shoplifting is wrong by anyone’s standardized.

    However, I think having a man arrest AFTER he comes back to pay for it is just uncalled for.

  141. AlphaTeam says:

    Oh yeah, I shouldn’t forget to mention there are several times where the cashier forgets to ring something up and I come back later to pay for it. What, arrest me for paying for what you guys forget to charge?

  142. radiochief says:

    What he should have done– is brought back the steak wrapper and complained about the steak’s quality. Tell them he forgot the receipt and they’d give him $3.00 gift card refund!

    The score in this situation would be: Man 2 Food Lion 0.
    (1 for free steak +1 for refund)

    But alas, it is Food Lion 1 Man -1.
    (-1 for trying to pay after lifting the steak)