AUGUSTA, GA (WJBF) – Two Augusta women say they were arrested in front of their small children, thrown into jail and fined all because of an accident.
In March of 2016, sisters Sameisha Walters and Chantel Lawrence went to the Walmart on Wrightsboro Rd in Augusta with their toddlers. The women describe a shopping experience many parents know all too well.
“As soon as we pick things up and put it in the cart, the kids are taking it out. They’re putting in what they want. We’re taking out what they’re putting in saying ‘we’re not getting that. No!” Lawrence says about their trip to pick up a list of items for their families.
They ran into problems with the self-check-out.
“I’m scanning, hearing the machine beep, thinking that everything is all ok,” says Walters. “Before I even exit the store I was stopped.”
Walmart employees accused them of shoplifting.
Walters admits there were things in her buggy she did not pay for, but says it was an accident. While at the self-check-out, she says she took out $100 cash back. She also says she paid for more than $100 worth or items. Walters asked to pay for the missed items with the $100 cash in her hand. The answer was no.
Neither woman had a criminal record. Lawrence is a veteran. Like many, her Army service is what brought her to Augusta.
At the time of the incident, they were new to the area. They had no friends or family who could come and pick up their children. Their small kids got stir crazy as they waited in the small Walmart room to see what would happen.
Lawrence says the Walmart manager brought a deputy to evaluate the situation and showed him the video of the women checking out of the store.
“He said he didn’t see anything,” Lawrence recalls. “When the cop started arresting us we were like ‘why are you arresting us if you didn’t see where we stole anything?’ He said he has to do what they say.”
According to the women, the deputy said he would have to call family services to come and get their children. Having no friends of family nearby, they called the maintenance man at their new apartment to come and get their children since they were going to jail.
A few weeks after they spent hours in jail, Walters got a letter that said she owed $150. This fine was separate from her criminal charges. Walmart’s law firm said they would file a civil lawsuit against her if she did not pay.
Walters received the letter before she or her sister went to court. This baffled their attorney Titus Nichols.
“I look at the letter and I’m a former prosecutor myself and I’m looking at it and I’m thinking, they haven’t even gone to court yet. How can you definitively say they shoplifted?” Nichols asks rhetorically.
When Nichols did take their case to court, he says a judge dropped all of the shoplifting charges.
“You have to show that I had the intent to permanently deprive you of that item. The intent is what separates it from just accidentally walking out the door.” He further explains by saying, “you can typically find intent for shoplifting if they have a history, if they try to run away, if they are combative, if they lie to you or if the types of items they are taking are things like electronics, food, jewelry—things that have a street value.”
Nichols says none of those conditions apply to his clients. Walmart disagrees.
After consulting with their legal team, LeMia Jenkins, the Director for National Media Relations for Walmart sent NewsChannel 6 the following statement.
“We have evidence and video footage that directly disputes the plaintiffs’ account of events in our store. We stand behind our decision and will continue to defend the company.”
This is not the first time Walmart has dealt with a case like this. A recently published New York Times article lists similar stories.
Walters and Lawrence say they are confident they did nothing wrong. They are suing Walmart for the damage to their character, bank accounts and well-being.
“I had to strip down to everything for them and have chains on my ankles, chains on my hands. I look back on that and I’m like–it’s emotional,” Walters says.
Walters says, even though the charges were dropped, she has had issues flying back from visiting her family in Jamaica. Lawrence said the situation affected her ability to get a job. They say they are suing for bigger reasons than those. They want to send Walmart and other large corporations a message.
“The bigger goal for my clients is to show Walmart that you can’t treat people this way just because you think there a certain way or you think that they’re too poor to fight back,” Nichols says.
Nichols is not sure if the case will go all the way to trial, but he is prepared to take it that far. He says he is confident that a Richmond County jury will see the truth.