Grocer who nabbed thief takes stand, says police were little help
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, October 7, 2010 6:35PM EDT
TORONTO - A Toronto shopkeeper charged after apprehending a thief testified Thursday he was victimized by shoplifters almost every day at his Chinatown fruit store, but police were of little help.
David Chen made what he calls a citizen's arrest in May 2009, about an hour after a thief stole flowers from his store.
The law states you need to catch someone red-handed to make a citizen's arrest, and now Chen, his brother-in-law Qing Ping Li, and nephew Jie Chen are on trial on charges they confined and assaulted the thief.
On the stand Thursday, Chen said he was simply trying to catch the third person to steal from his store in a week, so police could order the man to stay away.
"If I report the matter to the police, at least it would prevent him from returning to the store," Chen said through a Mandarin interpreter.
If he had not stopped the thief, Chen said he believed he would be a constant victim of people who steal his property and get away with it.
Police would often show up late, only to discourage him from pressing charges, he said. Officers would let suspects off with only a warning to never return, he added.
Even though his annual salary only adds up to about $35,000, Chen said he was sick and tired of losing money from the frequent fruit thefts. He spent $30,000 on security cameras.
"To us, it's a fairly big problem," he said. "Almost every day these things happen."
Chen testified he wakes up at 4 a.m., seven days a week to head to work. He comes home at 11:30 p.m., sleeping only four hours, and starts the cycle again the next morning to put food on the table for his wife and two young children.
Police let two other shoplifters go just days before Anthony Bennett rode up on a bicycle and drove off with about $60 worth of flowers at the Lucky Moose Food Mart.
Chen, who testified he only made about a dollar profit for each of the 12 money tree plants that Bennett stole, said the thief ran off too quickly for him to grab him in the act.
"He was riding his bike so fast, I was unable to catch him," he said.
"It (was) useless for me to alert the police," he said.
On the stand Wednesday, Bennett admitted he returned to the store about an hour later to steal more merchandise so he could sell it to get money for drugs. He pleaded guilty last year to stealing from the store and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Chen said he saw Bennett, whom he described as "a known thief on the streets of Chinatown," and told him he had surveillance video proof of the theft.
He said he asked Bennett to pay for the plants in exchange for not calling police.
In the only English he spoke during his testimony, Chen said Bennett cursed at him and then ran away through an alley. Chen gave chase, hoping that if he caught Bennett, the police would warn him to stay away from the store.
He said he needed Bennett in hand in order to make the call to police.
"I can only report it to police with a body there," he told court.
The grocer said he caught up with Bennett and intended on bringing him back to the store, but Bennett began punching and kicking him.
Chen's delivery van happened to be pulling into the alley when the confrontation happened, and the driver stopped in front of Bennett so he couldn't get away.
Chen said he held Bennett up against the van but he continued to struggle.
"I was surprised that he dared to even hit me, so I backed off, and he wanted to run away," Chen said, describing how he used a leather belt given to him by one of his co-workers to tie up Bennett's legs.
Defence lawyer Peter Lindsay showed the judge photos of Chen with bruises on his arm, which Chen said came from Bennett's struggling.
Bennett testified Wednesday that he feared for his life and said Chen and two other men went too far by chasing him down, tying him up, and throwing him in the back of the van. He said they should have instead walked him back to the store.
But Chen said he and his co-workers only put Bennett in the van to move it quickly because it was blocking the alley and other cars were waiting to get through.
That's when police showed up, told everyone to get on the ground and arrested Chen and his colleagues, Chen said.