A Story of an Inconvenience Store
by Lindsay Packard
Gary, a friend of mine, had a recent brush with the criminal justice system that could teach us all a few lessons. Toward that end, he has allowed me to share his story.
In the middle of September 2001, Gary was working at his job as a document and package courier. Such an occupation, he tells me, requires a degree of coordinating one’s day, such as when the best time might be to grab lunch, get gas for his vehicle or attend to certain bodily necessities. Time is money, and he tries to be as efficient as possible.
On this particular day, Gary had miscalculated the strength of his bladder, and was in some degree of discomfort when he pulled into a convenience store/gasoline station. Despite his feelings of urgency, he took the time to fill up his van, and then went to pay and use the facilities. By this time he was in extremis, and inside the store he noticed a sign above the restroom door that declared "No Public Restrooms." "Does that apply to customers?" Gary inquired of the cashier. "Yes," the clerk replied. Gary hurriedly explained that unless he got to a lavatory immediately, he was going to have an accident right where he stood. So he handed his wallet to the clerk as collateral, and ran into the bathroom.
It bears mentioning that Gary is not a threatening-looking person. He is rather distinguished appearing, reminiscent of the mayor in "Spin City." In his 50s, he has graying hair and always wears a tie while working. Although many in his line of work consider every day to be casual Friday, Gary likes to present a professional appearance to his customers.
When he emerged from the restroom, Gary reached for a soft drink and a bottle of oil, took them to the counter, retrieved his billfold and paid for his purchases. He went out to the fueling bay and poured the oil into his engine. Then he went on his way.
A few blocks later, a police cruiser pulled up behind Gary and turned on its emergency lights. As Gary pulled over, another police vehicle joined the first one. Gary rolled down his window, and was informed by the police officer that (and as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up) he had received a complaint about Gary "making unauthorized use of a restroom."
Despite his incredulity, Gary had the presence of mind to show the officer his receipt, and explained that he had been a paying customer of the store. It was the officer’s turn to be incredulous, because he had apparently been under the impression that Gary had brazenly marched into the store and used the commode without buying anything. While we can all agree that such people must be stopped, Gary assured the policeman that he was not such a miscreant.
The second patrolman drove to the store to check out Gary’s story, while the first detained the perp. About 45 minutes later the second officer returned. Apparently, the clerk had convinced him that Gary was deserving of a citation (perhaps he accused him of not flushing) because a ticket was issued to Gary for "illegal entry." Finally, after having been detained for about an hour, Gary was released.
Taxpayers reading this (and I hope you all are) might wonder what city has the funds to allow it the luxury of dispatching two highly trained municipal minions for an hour each to investigate a crime such as that committed by Gary. Because I have not confirmed Gary’s story with the jurisdiction in which he was stopped, I am loath to hold an entire metropolis up to ridicule based upon Gary’s word alone (although I have no reason to question his veracity). Nevertheless, I will give readers a clue, so that, if they can figure it out, they might avoid driving through this unfriendly burg without having first stopped on its border to relieve themselves. The name of this town sort of rhymes with "Nevada" (and don’t call or e-mail me, because my sense of fairness will allow me to reveal nothing more).
After mulling these events over for a few days, Gary made a telephone call to the home office of the convenience store. Upon hearing Gary’s narrative, the person he spoke to was very apologetic, and said he would see what he could do.
Gary lives in southeast Denver, and although it was a long drive to the courthouse, he dutifully appeared for his arraignment a few weeks later. He pled not guilty, and set the case for trial. Then he stopped in to see his friendly, local, neighborhood assistant city attorney. When she heard Gary’s tale, the ACA was shocked and apologetic (I know I’m overusing the word, but it seems that everyone was apologetic). She gave Gary her business card, and told him to have a representative from the convenience store company call her.
Gary returned to the scene of the crime, and by good fortune the district and regional managers were visiting the store. The complaining witness was also on duty. Gary explained his situation to the managers, and they were both (I know you’re way ahead of me here) apologetic. Gary gave them the city attorney’s card, and they promised to clear the whole thing up.
Some time later, Gary received a voice message from one of the managers, stating that he had spoken to the assistant city attorney and that the charge had been dismissed. Being prudent, Gary himself called the assistant city attorney and she confirmed that the matter had been dropped and he did not need to appear for trial.
All’s well that ends well, you might say. Which would be true, except that it did not end.
About a month later, while driving within the city limits of a town named after a recently deceased, Aspen-dwelling, Rocky Mountain High folk singer, Gary’s vehicle was rear-ended by another. The police responded to the scene, and, after running Gary’s particulars through Big Brother, he was promptly cuffed and hauled away to the district hoosegow. Gary’s curiosity got the better of him, and he asked what he was being arrested for. His captor informed him that it was because of an outstanding warrant for his failure to appear in court for the convenience store caper.
Gary arrived at the district station at about 3 p.m., where he was relieved of his tie, belt, wallet and shoes. He was put into a tiny holding cell and handcuffed to a bench. His only companion was an inebriated fellow prisoner who, alas, wasn’t much of a conversationalist.
Gary’s two-way radio was also confiscated, and it was put on a desk near his cell, where he could hear his employer fruitlessly trying to contact him.
Just when things looked bleakest, life got better for Gary. He was put in a paddy wagon and taken downtown, where he was placed into a nice, large holding cell. Although it was inhabited by a number of rough-looking characters, Gary was impressed because one of them immediately stood up when he entered the cell and made room for him to sit down. Apparently, his companions spotted him right away for a person who wasn’t accustomed to such surroundings. Even without his shoes and tie, he could still pass for a Wall Street CEO, or perhaps even a millionaire/lawyer/lobbyist.
As Gary sat there, his biggest fear was that one of his fellow prisoners would ask him what he was in for. He remembered Arlo Guthrie, in the recording "Alice’s Restaurant," having to tell a gaggle of hardened thieves and murderers that he was among them in jail only for the lowly offense of littering. Gary would certainly get no respect (which he had heard is so essential when you’re in the joint) if he had to admit that he had been incarcerated for the unlawful use of a toilet.
After he was fingerprinted, Gary was sent to a different cell, where he waited out the night while he was being "processed." He was allowed liberal use of a telephone, but was not given a telephone directory. Since all of his frequently used numbers were committed into the memory of his cell phone, which had been left in his vehicle, instead of his own memory, the only number that he could recall was that of his home. He called a few times, only to reach his answering machine. Gary’s wife, it turned out, was at the grand opening of a law firm, wondering where her husband was.
Finally, at 3:30 a.m., Gary was allowed to use his credit card to post bail. He was then directed to go through a door, which he assumed would lead to some sort of lobby area. Instead, it led directly onto a cold, dark and deserted 13th Street. The door locked behind him, and Gary was left in the ironic position of having to bang on the door to be let back into jail. He was re-admitted, and used the telephone to call his wife to retrieve him.
The next day, Gary started the process of getting right with the law. He called the municipal court, talked to a clerk, and explained what had happened to him. The clerk pulled his file and told him that the case had, indeed, been dismissed. Gary drove to the courthouse and obtained a written record of the dismissal. He noticed that the date of the dismissal was only the day before, when he had called and spoken to the clerk. Better late than never.
Gary now carries copies of the dismissal order in his wallet and in every vehicle he drives. He probably also carries a bottle in his van in case his bladder ever unexpectedly fails him, so that he will not again be forced into the illicit utilization of a private privvy. No more "drive bys" for Gary.
Even though we are officers of the court, what happened to Gary could happen to any of us. At the beginning of this saga, I promised that Gary’s experience suggested some lessons for us all. There are perhaps many, but the ones I have identified are: always carry a toothbrush, and memorize important telephone numbers (especially the home phone of a friendly criminal defense attorney).
And finally, never "go" where you aren’t welcome.