Newburgh N.Y. Oct 17, 2007
Town of Newburgh — In the corporate world, the customer is always right. But what if the customer steals handbags and belts and then punches you in the face?
What if you, the customer service manager, raise your arm to protect yourself or strike back and then get fired for touching the customer?
Victoria Smith said she was terminated this week for defending herself against an accused shoplifter at the 24-hour Super Wal-Mart on Union Avenue in the Town of Newburgh.
“This is so embarrassing,” she said. “I was just defending myself and this store. I need this job. I have kids to feed.”
The boss who fired Smith on Sunday — three days after the incident and halfway through her shift — would not comment on the situation. Wal-Mart media relations did not return calls yesterday, and district manager Sidney Knowles was out of the office.
But the Town of Newburgh police, who interviewed multiple witnesses and reviewed the store’s security tapes, said Smith reacted in a way that most victims would in similar circumstances.
The problem started Thursday night, when a customer tipped off Smith to a potential shoplifter who wasn’t scanning handbags and belts in the store’s self-checkout lane.
Smith, a customer service manager, took up a post at the exit, next to the giant smiley face on the floor, and started checking random customers’ receipts. When her shopper of interest left the in-store McDonald’s and headed her way, she asked to see her receipt, too.
It didn’t match the items she had.
Normally, Smith then would suggest that some of the customer’s items might not have rung up correctly on the register and they’d have to take a closer look. It’s a nonaccusatory way for customers to see their way out of sticky situations, Smith said.
“I’ve been in customer service for 16 years,” she said. “I know the routine.”
But Smith said the young woman’s temper flared. She yelled at Smith, threw her receipts on the floor and bolted.
Then the irate shopper — whom police identified as 18-year-old Angel Rivera of the City of Newburgh — rushed back into Wal-Mart, screaming at Smith and wielding a Mickey D’s cup of soda, police said. They say she smashed the drink over Smith’s shoulder and landed a hard hook to her cheek.
And Rivera didn’t stop there. Police said she slugged another associate in the eye, spit in the face of a loss-prevention employee and pummeled another manager who grabbed her shopping cart. No one was seriously injured.
Police were called and arrested Rivera at the scene. Rivera was charged with robbery and assault, felonies, and petty larceny, a misdemeanor. Police said she stole about $34 worth of merchandise and was sent to Orange County Jail on $2,500 bail.
Smith said she was the only employe terminated after the attack. She dropped by the store yesterday to pick up a couple of things and say goodbye to her favorite cashiers. Before this, she had hoped to move up in the company.
“Now, I don’t know if I even want to work in retail anymore,” she said. “It’s just not right.”
Christian Invaniuc, 39, was taken to a local hospital for a mental evaluation, bringing to an end another crane-climbing standoff in Buckhead — an area of Atlanta that’s no stranger to such scalers.
Officer James Polite said police couldn’t immediately say what prompted the man to climb the crane at the construction site of the Mezzo condominiums at 2171 Peachtree Road about 7 p.m. The 20-story, 94-unit development at the cusp of Midtown and Buckhead is expected to be completed next year.
Because the crane extends over Peachtree, the road was closed for a mile between Collier Road and W. Wesley Road. Residents were allowed to drive through, but other cars were turned around.
For the next six hours, throngs of people gathered with eyes peeled toward the sky, watching the man’s every move.
Travis Donley, 25, was visiting a friend at the nearby Peachtree Park Apartments and came out to see what all the commotion was about.
Donley was sitting on the sidewalk, clutching a cup of coffee from a Citgo gas station across the street. “They’re not getting much business right now,” he said, “so we’re doing our part to help out.”
Beside him, a glum-faced Mohamed Id, 23, stood with his arms crossed. He was supposed to be at work at 10 p.m. at a Sandy Springs store, but couldn’t make it because buses were not running on that section of Peachtree. “I am now watching to see who is this person who made me miss a day’s pay,” he said.
As he paced the length of the crane, the man — in a dress shirt and black pants — almost slipped and fell one time, but caught himself.
Occasionally a police helicopter would circle by, shining a spotlight on the man, while two Atlanta police negotiators tried to talk to him from inside the operator’s cabin at the top of the crane.
Joel Larsgaard, 23, was planning to wait to see how things would be resolved. “We’d love for him to come down safely and get some counseling. Nothing is worth jumping from a crane; there’s always options,” he said.
Finally, a little after 1 a.m., the negotiators were able to persuade the man to come close enough to take him into custody without incident, Polite said.
A city ordinance mandates that all construction sites be secured after hours. Authorities will next try to determine how the man gained access to the area.
Also, he could be charged violations including trespassing and obstruction, Polite said. That, however, will depend on a mental evaluation.
The incident was at least the fifth time that someone had climbed atop a crane in Atlanta in recent years.
“Unfortunately this is not the first time we’ve experienced this, but fortunately this is the way we had hoped it would be resolved,” Polite said.
Last month, four men — one wearing a Superman T-shirt — were apparently looking to “see the sights and do something exciting” when they scaled an 18-story Midtown construction crane, Atlanta police said. The men told police they climbed the crane “for giggles.”
In May 2005, Florida murder suspect Carl Edward Roland climbed up a crane 25 stories high.
Traffic along Peachtree Street was snarled for more than two days as Roland kept police at bay, at times waving at spectators 350 feet below. The standoff ended when a thirsty Roland approached an officer holding a cup of water and was shocked by the officer’s Taser stun gun. He was then arrested.
Later that month, another man climbed halfway up another crane elsewhere on Peachtree Street. He came down hours later after police said his craving for a cigarette became too much to bear.
And in June 2001, a 23-year-old man spent at least 21 hours on top of a 200-foot construction crane by the Lindbergh MARTA station before he hanged himself.
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About two dozen driver’s license investigators, state troopers and GBI agents have completed federal training to determine a suspect’s legal status in the United States and, if necessary, start deportation proceedings.
Until now, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office has been the only police agency in Georgia to train with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Cobb began deporting inmates from its jail in July.
The newly trained officers — three driver’s license fraud investigators, 14 state troopers and five Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents — will start work over the next few months. Some are waiting for computer access to federal immigration data.
In addition, this year’s state budget provides $537,860 to hire 10 new driver’s license fraud investigators for centers across the state.
The GBI already has its three-man team in place and has started investigations, said GBI director Vernon Keenan. The state budget provided $201,996 for the positions. Two other agents who took the ICE training will be assigned to a homeland security unit separate from driver’s license issues, Keenan said.
Counterfeiters use expensive equipment to make IDs and charge a high price, he said. “They’re making everything. Immigration papers, birth certificates, Social Security cards. You name it.”
Fraud investigators at the state’s driver’s license offices see a lot of fake Social Security cards and federal I-94 documents, said Rick Miller, director of investigations for the Department of Driver Services .
The I-94, known as the Arrival-Departure Record, is a white card issued to visitors to the U.S. showing how long they can legally stay. Georgia issues licenses to visitors for the time period their I-94s are valid.
Many legal tourists become illegal residents when they overstay the time allotted on the I-94.
Agents with driver services intend to apply the letter of the law to those with fake documents, which is a felony, Miller said.
“They’ve got a fraudulent document, they’ve committed a felony, and they’re going to jail,” he said.
While they’re at it, agents can determine legal status and initiate deportation proceedings, Miller said.
Three driver’s license fraud investigators with deportation powers should be ready to start in a few months. They are awaiting passwords and access to federal computers, he said.
The department also will hire 10 more fraud investigators, for a total of 21, who will work out of driver’s license offices across the state. It’s not clear if they will take deportation training.
About 70 percent of the document fraud cases driver services made last quarter were immigration related. Investigators see other instances of fraud, such as under-age people who try to appear older so they can buy alcohol, Miller said.
The State Patrol has trained 14 troopers, but for now, most will call into a federal hotline to obtain immigration information on a suspect because they won’t be near jails with federal computers. When they take suspects to jails on criminal charges, troopers can place a hold on suspects for possible immigration violations.
“There’s no plan for us to go out and be rounding folks up,” said State Patrol Lt. Kermit Stokes, who took the training. “If [troopers] come across someone who’s a bad person and they shouldn’t be in the country anyway â€” then we can work on the deportation side of it, too.”
The new focus on fake documents is a result of Senate Bill 529, Georgia’s crackdown on illegal immigration, and Gov. Sonny Perdue’s “Secure ID” initiative.
“Our efforts are going to be greatly increased. You’re going to see more prosecutions because of Secure ID than you have in the past,” said Miller, of driver services .
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A Scranton woman who allegedly shouted profanities at her overflowing toilet within earshot of a neighbor was cited for disorderly conduct, authorities said.
Dawn Herb could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300.
“It doesn’t make any sense. I was in my house. It’s not like I was outside or drunk,” Herb told The Times-Tribune of Scranton. “The toilet was overflowing and leaking down into the kitchen and I was yelling (for my daughter) to get the mop.”
Herb doesn’t recall exactly what she said, but she admitted letting more than a few choice words fly near an open bathroom window Thursday night.
Her next-door neighbor, a city police officer who was off-duty at the time, asked her to keep it down, police said. When she continued, the officer called police.
Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia, took issue with the citation.
“You can’t prosecute somebody for swearing at a cop or a toilet,” she said.
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INDIANAPOLIS — A convicted murderer who escaped from an Indiana prison 35 years ago was found living quietly in a small Tennessee town, authorities said Tuesday.
Linda Darby, 64, was arrested Friday in Pulaski, Tenn., where she was going by the name Linda Joe McElroy. Darby was sentenced to life in prison in 1970 for her husband’s murder, but she escaped in March 1972 from the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis by climbing over a barbed-wire fence.
Pulaski police Capt. John Dickey said that Darby had been living a quiet life in the town some 70 miles south of Nashville for about 30 years.
“This woman has led an exemplary life in Pulaski,” Dickey said. “There is no record of any criminal activity here whatsoever.”
Darby, who was originally from Hammond, Ind., has waived extradition from Tennessee, said Karen Cantou Grubbs, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Correction. She is being held at the Giles County, Tenn., Jail.
Dickey said investigators in Indiana had contacted the Pulaski Police Department about Darby and Indiana and Tennessee authorities worked together to make the identification and arrest.
Her arrest came two weeks after the start of the Indiana Department of Correction’s new Indiana Fugitive Apprehension Unit, which aids in the recapture of offenders who have escaped from confinement, fled residential programs or vanished while on parole.
Since the unit’s creation, two other fugitives have been identified and apprehended. DOC officials said that about 300 Indiana fugitives remain at large.
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