When I take my two younger daughters to the grocery store, they sometimes pick a snack off the shelves and share it while we shop. I always make a point of having them save the wrapper so we can pay for the item when we check out—but not because I am afraid that otherwise I will be handcuffed and taken to jail while the girls are hauled off by a government-employed social worker. Fortunately, I do not shop at Safeway:
Nicole Leszczynski couldn't imagine that two chicken salad sandwiches would land her and her husband in jail and her 2-year-old daughter in state custody. But it happened five days ago, when the 30-weeks-pregnant woman forgot to pay for her snack while grocery shopping….
Famished, the former Air Force staff sergeant picked up the two sandwiches that together cost $5. She openly munched on one while they shopped, saving the wrapper to be scanned at the register later.
But they forgot to pay for the sandwiches as they checked out with about $50 worth of groceries….
"I asked to talk to a manager and he said it was against their policy to pay for items that left the store," she said. "The security guard said we were being charged with shoplifting."
Four hours later, a police officer arrived and read them their rights. A woman from the state Child Welfare Services arrived to take Zofia away.
While it sounds like the store's management is mainly to blame, it is astonishing that the police did not try to dissuade the guard or manager from having the couple arrested over a $5 mistake, especially since they knew it would mean separating a 2-year-old girl from her parents for the night:
A Honolulu police spokeswoman said it was procedure to call Child Welfare Services if a child is present when both parents are arrested. The store's management did not know the girl would be taken away, said Susan Houghton, a spokeswoman for California-based Safeway.
The national supermarket chain said it was looking into the incident. "It was never our intent to separate a mother from her child. That was a very unfortunate consequence to this situation," Houghton said. "We understand the outrage. We are concerned about how this was handled."
Leszczynski called the incident "so horrifying, it seemed to escalate and no one could say, 'this is too much.'"
[Thanks to Mark Lambert for the tip.]