By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
A $7.50 can of sale paint was no bargain for 44-year-old Denver antique dealer Myke Johnson: She might wind up mortgaging her house to pay for it.
But Johnson won't find a lot of sympathy in Edgewater. The little suburb's police force reportedly turned out en masse for Johnson's trial and celebrated her shoplifting conviction--which she still hotly disputes--with flashing lights and blaring sirens. Johnson's attorney says it was "sort of like being in the Twilight Zone."
The unusual case--which culminated in Edgewater's first jury trial of any kind in more than two years--began one afternoon last July when Johnson and her daughter, Julie Rodriguez, walked out of a store without paying for one of the items in their shopping cart. The excursion ended with the two of them handcuffed and arrested for shoplifting.
Since then they have chalked up $3,000 in legal fees, $1,000 in fines and at least $600 in medical costs for treatment of injuries allegedly suffered at the hands of Edgewater police. And now, after failing to convince a jury of their innocence, the two women are planning to appeal their convictions.
Johnson and Rodriguez, neither of whom has a previous arrest record with the state, Denver or Edgewater, expect their appeal to cost thousands more. But, says Johnson, "I feel like they've left me no choice."
Rodriguez and Johnson were headed home July 23 when Johnson decided to stop at Builder's Square in Edgewater, a town of about 5,000 that sits just west of the Denver/Jefferson county line.
Johnson's first selection was a gallon of Glidden paint--half-off at $7.50. She picked up a few other items and then lined up to pay. But the cashier had trouble ringing up the paint and told Johnson she'd have to take it to another counter. Johnson put the paint back in her cart, then waited as the cashier rang up the wrong price on another item.
By that time, Johnson says, she and her daughter were tired, frustrated and in a hurry. Rodriguez, who was at the other end of the counter, was not paying attention to the transaction, she says. So when she saw her mother write out a check and hand it to the cashier, she headed for the door with their cart. The two were walking through the parking lot when assistant store manager Barbara Clarke hailed them and told Johnson she'd forgotten to pay for the paint.
Johnson handed the can to Clarke, said she didn't want it and told her she would come back later. Clarke returned to the store. A minute later, security guard Steve Martinez came out and demanded that Johnson accompany him inside. Rodriguez went with them.
"All the way up to the office," Martinez wrote in a report, "both the lady and the girl kept on changing their stories, [saying] that we had confused her too much and then that she forgot to pay and that they would [have] paid but that her time was too valuable." But to Johnson, it was all the same story: They'd confused her, she'd forgotten and she would have paid for the paint when Clarke stopped her, but she was rushed for time and gave it back instead.
When Martinez would not summon the store manager as she asked, Johnson balked. She refused to show identification even when he said he'd call the police. "The police were no threat to me," Johnson says. "I'd never had a problem before. I said, `Fine. Go ahead and call them.' I thought I'd explain my situation and we'd be on our way."
Things didn't go as she expected.
According to Johnson, two Edgewater police officers burst through the security office door, swearing and threatening her and her daughter with jail if they didn't turn over their IDs. Johnson immediately pulled out her driver's license. When Rodriguez did not comply, Officer Scott Fowle grabbed her purse. He felt it necessary, he later wrote in his report, "to check it for weapons." Rodriguez then "pulled the purse from my hands and started to put her hand inside the purse," he wrote. "I feared that [she] may have been reaching for a weapon, so I took hold of her right hand in an attempt to control her. [She] pulled away from me and I was forced to handcuff her while she struggled to get away."
Rodriguez says Fowle's actions went far beyond that. "I was thrown onto the table," she says. "My head was slammed into the table about six times. I was not resisting. I was in a state of shock."
When Johnson saw this, she jumped up and began waving clenched fists. "I was screaming and yelling, `She hasn't done anything,'" Johnson says. Officer Larry Bauer then grabbed Johnson, and "slammed my face into the table about three times," she says. "Then they pushed us into chairs and asked us if we could behave ourselves."
Fowle wrote in his report that Bauer handcuffed Johnson because she "was about to strike me with her fist."
The officers gave Rodriguez a ticket for shoplifting; Johnson got one for shoplifting and interference. Then they were released.