Long story short. My mother has a friend. She's elderly and the sweetest person you'll meet. She went shopping Yesterday and during she apparently put a couple packs of garlic in her sweater pocket. No bad intentions behind it. It didn't even cross her mind. When she was done shopping she went to go pay and ended up spending over a hundred dollars in groceries. This whole time forgetting that she even had the unpaid garlic on her. As she was headed towards the door with her paid groceries, apparently the manager or some employee told her to empty her pocket. Of course she realized that she had walked out without paying it. And apparently they caused a big scene, and told her that they wouldn't call the cops on her IF she handed over $350. Being the older and sweet person that she is, of course she got scared and didn't want any problems. So she gave them the money. AND on top of that, the store kept all the groceries that she bought. Didn't even give her one cent back. Sorry if this was too long. I'm just furious and wondering what I can do. Thank you
While this was DEFINITELY inappropriate, it was not domestic violence. I'm changing the category for you, so that some criminal defense attorneys can address this.
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Interesting story. Not certain what transpired there but if she believes that this actually did happen then she should call the cops. Watch out because as sweet as elderly people are, they tend to recall things differently. Best wishes.
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Indeed it seems like extortion but in fact it appears the merchant may have acted legally within California Penal Code Section 490.5(c) which reads in relevant part, "When an adult or emancipated minor has unlawfully taken merchandise from a merchant’s premises, or a book or other library materials from a library facility, the adult or emancipated minor shall be liable to the merchant or library facility for damages of not less than fifty dollars ($50) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500), plus costs." In essence this gives any merchant shopkeeper a private cause of action to sue for up to $500 any alleged thief for the value of the goods taken or damaged plus up to $500. In your mom's friend's case, given the alleged theft (of garlic), the merchant could sue for up to $500. What likely happened is that the merchant entered into a civil compromise with your mom's friend in the amount of $350, which was given in exchange for the merchant's right to sue (for up to $500). However, you mention that the store, "kept all the groceries that she bought." If true, this was improper (and illegal) as the store should have returned her money or allowed her to keep the purchased items (which is an issue quite separate from the $350 civil compromise she apparently entered into regarding the garlic). Indeed, if she paid for the groceries but the store seized the groceries without refunding her money, the store itself may be guilty of theft (for the purchased groceries). Also, I assume there was some written instrument which spelled out the terms of agreement that your mom's friend signed when she paid the $350, if not this is improper.
The above is the legal answer but in reality it's beyond odd and at least a bit horrifying that the manager thought it proper to do what he did over a piece of garlic. The truly sad thing is the manager was likely following his store's protocol in regards to theft incidents, corporate stores tend to have very unforgiving policies in regards to theft. All the best.
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