San Francisco’s district attorney has questioned whether a ‘prolific’ shoplifter was facing mental or physical trauma, as defended the city’s law and order policies.
Chesa Boudin, district attorney since 2019, was asked about a viral video from June 19 showing a man heaping armfuls of Walgreens products into a trash bag, then riding his bike through the store with the stolen goods while the security guard and bystanders looked on.
The brazen broad daylight theft happened at a Walgreens on 300 Gough Street, in the Hayes Valley area of San Francisco.
The suspect, Jean Lugo-Romero, 40, was arrested on June 19 and remains in jail.
He had previously robbed the same store on May 29, 30, 31 and June 1, but Walgreens declined to prosecute, Boudin said.
Chesa Boudin, pictured outside his office in January 2020. In an interview with The New Yorker Boudin said he was interested in the story behind the man who carried out a series of thefts in a San Francisco Walgreens
In a Twitter video posted by ABC7 Reporter Lyanne Melendez, a man is seen nonchalantly shoplifting from a Walgreens in San Francisco as a bystander and security guard watch
The man rode his bike to the store, filled a garbage bag with stolen goods and rode away
Ahsha Safaí, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, shared in a tweet his disgust with skyrocketing crime in San Francisco
‘When I watch that video, I think about five questions that people are not asking that I think they should,’ Boudin told The New Yorker.
‘Is he drug addicted, mentally ill, desperate?
‘Is he part of a major retail fencing operation?
‘What’s driving this behavior and is it in any way representative, because it was presented as something symptomatic?’
Boudin, elected on an ultra-progressive ticket, said that perhaps Walgreens had a policy of not confronting shoplifters.
Boudin said that he wanted to know more about Walgreen’s policies on detaining and arresting shoplifters
The security guard faced criticism online for failing to act, although some people said he did the right thing by making his presence known and filming him rather than confronting him physically.
‘If Walgreens has insurance for certain goods or they expect a certain amount of loss, if they would rather not risk lawsuits or escalation to violence – then maybe that’s something we should know about,’ said Boudin.
He told the magazine that the police make arrests in just two-and-a-half per cent of reported thefts.
‘Maybe that’s a good thing – maybe that means they’re prioritizing murders,’ Boudin said.
‘But when this particular individual was arrested, and we got the full police history, it turned out that he had been detained by the police previously after another Walgreens incident, and they didn’t arrest him because Walgreens had said they did not want to press charges in that prior case.
‘The police had known who he was for months.’
The manager of the Walgreens store that Lugo-Romero raided, Bonnie Wong, told DailyMail.com she couldn’t comment on Boudin’s remarks. Walgreens is yet to respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.
Boudin said that official data showed that over-all theft was down from the previous year.
Yet the city has in recent months seen a spree of high-profile thefts.
Earlier this month, video emerged on social media showing shoplifters brazenly making off with stolen goods after ransacking a local Neiman Marcus store in the Union Square section of the city.
At least 10 people are seen in the video with armfuls of designer goods and then fleeing the luxury department store Neiman Marcus – without anyone trying to stop them.
The footage reveals the shoplifters leaving the Union Square store, each carrying bags of stolen items with the security tags still dangling off of them.
A video posted to Instagram captures the moment at least 10 people stole loads of designer bags from Neiman Marcus in San Francisco and fled undeterred
Police are still investigating the incident and the suspects were already gone by the time they arrived
Shoplifting cases are all too common in San Francisco, where charges of property theft less than $950 in value was downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanor in 2014
Witnesses told KTVU that the store was about to close when the suspects came in and smashed display cases before nabbing the goods and leaving
The perpetrators then ran in different directions, with a few speeding away from the scene in a white sedan.
One person watching says: ‘They can’t do anything,’ perhaps referring to security at Neiman Marcus.
Authorities said that an estimated tens of thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen.
The person who posted the video wrote a message demanding San Francisco crackdown on shoplifters and called for Boudin to be removed from office.
‘Everyone in the city is tired of this so please sign the recall petition to oust Chesa Boudin now!’ wrote Instagram user sfstreets415, whose bio reads: Asian photographer and crime reporter.
‘Crime is legal basically and allowed and tolerated due to policies put in place and supported by all our supervisors and mayor and DA.’
Walgreens spends 35 times more on security guards in the city than elsewhere, Jason Cunningham, regional vice president for pharmacy and retail operations in California and Hawaii, said at a hearing in May.
The hearing on retail crimes was organized by Ahsha Safaí, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, with Boudin, retailers, police and probation departments.
Walgreens has closed 17 San Francisco stores, and theft in the pharmaceutical chain’s 53 remaining stores is four times the average for stores elsewhere in the country, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
One Walgreens reportedly loses $1,000 a day to shoplifters, the news outlet reported.
A Change.org petition was launched in March to keep one of the Walgreens on Bush and Larkin streets open, but it ended up closing anyway.
‘This has become a lifeline for many seniors, people with disabilities, and low income residents who cannot go further out to other stores to get what they need,’ wrote Rusty Everclear, who started the petition that received 257 signatures.
Across the city, 18 Walgreens stores saw 94 shoplifting incidents between September 1 and December 31, 2020, according to data compiled by the San Francisco Police Department and obtained by news outlet Mission Local.
Larceny is the most common crime committed in the Bay Area, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s Crime Dashboard
Larceny is the most common crime committed in the Bay Area, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s Crime Dashboard.
There were 12,925 instances in 2020 and 11,062 instances in 2021 so far, as compared to the next highest crime – burglary – of which there were 3,141 instances in 2020 and 3,366 in 2021 so far.
Larceny is defined by the department as including ‘thefts of bicycles, motor vehicle parts and accessories, shoplifting, pocket picking, or the stealing of any property or article that is not taken by force and violence or by fraud.’
Burglary is different from larceny because it involves unlawful trespassing to commit a crime.
According to a Walgreens employee handbook, staff who witness someone shoplifting are told to notify a manager and ‘never accuse a person of shoplifting or stealing’.
The handbook also states: ‘Don’t attempt to confront or stop a shoplifter or try to follow him or her out of the store.’
‘In many cases, police don’t write an incident report, because the suspect has already left the scene,’ said Matthew Donahue, an assistant district attorney in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, to the Mission Local.
Boudin denied that he was reluctant to prosecute.
‘I’m a trial lawyer. Of course I want to go to court!’ he told The New Yorker.
‘From a public political standpoint, what matters more is the ups and downs and if people feel less safe.
‘It doesn’t matter that crime is down. People feel less safe. They want to feel safe.’