Shoplifters often find themselves charged with robbery

EVERETT — Kevin Prentiss has seen it countless times: A shoplifter is spotted by store security, tries to bolt and gets physical or threatens violence.

Presto, change-o, a misdemeanor that routinely ends in a fine escalates into a felony with serious jail time.

“I guess what it comes down to is people get caught up in the moment,” the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office bureau chief said.

A lot of folks are getting caught up in the moment these days, impulsively upping the ante from petty purloining to felony robberies and assaults.

Last week, a Lynnwood man, 34, was stopped by a pharmacy store security employee while trying to vamoose with a ream of paper and a pair of scissors. The man, who had a shaven head, allegedly threatened the worker with the scissors when confronted. The employee followed him to his hotel where police made an easy identification and arrested him for investigation of robbery.

On Thursday, an Everett man, 27, who had been banned for life from entering any Wal-Mart store was arrested for first-degree burglary after allegedly trying to steal computer game equipment from the store. He scuffled with security before his arrest.

Some people get in big trouble for small items.

Consider the case of Tino Resendez, 28, who is charged with second-degree assault and is wanted on a bench warrant, according to court records.

Prosecutors allege he tried to steal a nudie magazine from a convenience store on Hoyt Avenue in Everett in May.

When two store employees confronted him, Resendez allegedly ran out to his car and waved a knife at them.

Two days later, police nabbed him trying to make a run for it from his girlfriend’s house.

Court papers described his lament from the back of a patrol car. “All this over a porno magazine,” he said ruefully.

U.S. retailers take a $13 billion annual hit at the hands of shoplifters, and more than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. The nonprofit organization reports an average of 550,000 shoplifting incidents each day in the United States.

No agency seems to keep statistics on the number of cases that start out as shoplifting and turn into felony robberies or assaults, said Barbara Staib, a spokeswoman for National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

Prentiss estimates the sheriff’s office sees about one new case a week.

“They aren’t thinking logically,” Staib said. “They don’t think, ‘I am making it worse.’”

For some people, it’s simply a case of flight or fight, regardless of the potential consequences, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.

“It’s interesting how much of an effort some of them will make to try and get away,” he said.

In 2010, Harley Davidson Ironwing — a burglary buddy of Colton Harris Moore — hid string cheese in his pants while in a Stanwood grocery store. He was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to third-degree assault because he knocked down and injured an 85-year-old man while trying to flee a grocery store.

At a craft shop in Marysville in March, the store manager confronted a woman she believed had filled her purse with stolen items. The manager told the woman she only wanted the merchandise back and, if returned, she would not call the police. The suspect, 35, got in a tug-of-war over the control of her purse and pulled a knife from her pocket before leaving the store. She later was arrested, charged and sentenced to nine months in jail.

An Everett woman, 32, tried to leave a Safeway with $450 worth of groceries in her shopping cart in March. She was followed to her car by two store employees. Before either were able to move out of the way, the car accelerated forward, knocking both onto the front hood. The men then were thrown from the car. Neither was seriously injured. The woman later pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to three months in jail.

The list of stolen items that led to robbery and assault arrests includes sausages stuffed into a back pocket and steaks hidden beneath an armpit, clothing, jewelry, a microwave, a computer and a nail gun.

Staib said shoplifters would be well-advised “to take their lumps for what they have done” rather than try to get away. Punishments vary by jurisdiction and criminal history, but most shoplifting cases don’t result in much, if any, jail time, she said.

Modern technology, including strategically placed surveillance cameras, make it harder to get away with a crime even when the thief is able to wriggle away from store security.

For instance, deputies have identified a woman as a suspect in an Oct. 17 shoplift that became an alleged assault of a security officer at a Wal-Mart store near Lynnwood.

Because of her short hair and boyish build, detectives initially believed the suspect was a young man. When a picture taken from video footage was shared with the media, a tip came in identifying the person as the woman now under investigation. She has not been arrested, but charges are expected, Prentiss said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

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