Safeway Sends Parents to Jail, CPS Takes Toddler for $5 Sandwich Theft

by on March 2nd, 2011
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A pregnant woman and her husband, shopping at Safeway in Honolulu, Hawaii, were arrested and sent to jail for shoplifting. The parents’ 2-year-old daughter who was with them, was placed in protective custody. The crime? Nichole and Marcin Leszczynski had accidentally taken $5 worth of product and forgotten to pay it. Here’s a Q-and-A about the incident and what Safeway plans to do.

What was stolen?

While shopping, t he Leszczynskis opened two chicken salad sandwiches from their groceries and ate them in the store. They saved the wrappers, intending to pay for the food at checkout. When buying their groceries, they forgot to add the sandwich wrappers to the tab.

What did Safeway do?

A security guard accosted the couple about taking the food. The parents, expecting to return and pay for their food, were instead taken to the manager’s office. The manager said it was against store policy to accept payment on items after they left the building. Instead, he called the police. Four hours later, authorities took the parents to jail. They were released shortly thereafter, on $50 personal recognizance bail and taken to Safeway to collect their groceries.

What were the charges?

The parents were charged with 4th degree shoplifting, also called “petty larceny.” This charge covers food taken from a store and not paid for, but is not commonly applied unless the wrappers are hidden. Petty larceny generally involves voluntary and willful acts of theft: changing price tags on items, disguising items in lower-priced packaging, trying on shoes or clothing and leaving the store with them on or eating at a restaurant and leaving without paying the bill. With accidental shoplifting, most stores simply accept payment for the items.

What happened to the Leszczynskis’ child?

At the time of her parents’ arrest, the toddler was picked up by a state welfare worker and taken to a state agency. The parents contacted the Child Protective Services, but were not able to pick her up for 18 hours. The Safeway manager said he didn’t know that by having the parents arrested that their child would be taken away from them.

Why was the child removed?

Officials can’t leave a minor child unattended and as the Leszczynskis had just moved to town, there was no one to take the child. Typically, protocol is to place children in protective custody initially, if both parents have been incarcerated. Parents aren’t always reunited with their children once protective services steps in. A caseworker must examine the facts to decide if the parents are fit to care for their children. Depending upon the severity of the parents’ crime, the state may decide that the child is safer in a foster care facility.

What happens now?

The couple faces shoplifting charges at their Nov. 28 hearing. Safeway officials say they’re not sure yet whether they intend to actually press charges. They want to review surveillance camera footage to determine what happened.

What can parents do in situations like this?

Shoplifting laws vary by state. Most are more lenient on juveniles and first time offenders. The Leszczynskis have taken some important first steps: contacting a lawyer, alerting the media and networking with parenting advocacy groups. Parents have rallied in support of the Hawaii couple and several have organized boycotts of Safeway.

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