A so-called Instagram influencer told her followers a harrowing story about how she stopped a kidnapping in the parking lot of a Michaels craft store – but authorities say no crime took place. Now, the mom of two has now been charged with giving false information to a police officer and giving false information to a police dispatcher.
Katie Sorensen first went to police December 7, telling them a man and a woman followed her into the store and around inside as she shopped and commented on her two children's appearance, according to a news release from the Petaluma Police Department.
"She said they followed her out to her car, loitered suspiciously, and then left when noticed by another individual nearby," the release states.
Police officers determined no crime had taken place.
About a week later, Sorensen took to Instagram, where she amassed 80,000 followers, according to BuzzFeed News. She posted two Instagram videos about the alleged incident, which gained 4.5 million views, according to Petaluma 360, a local news publication.
Several people who viewed the videos went to the police with the information Sorensen shared. Police say in the videos, she gave a different version of what happened, includin significant information that was not shared with the Petaluma Police Department on December 7th or before her video was posted to social media."
"The new information included an assertion that the male who had followed her around the store and out to the car had approached the stroller and tried to grab it," the department said.
"This new information, if true, could constitute an attempted child abduction, so accordingly, the Petaluma Police Department began an investigation into the matter due to its potentially serious nature and concern for community safety," the department said.
Petaluma Police reviewed the store's security video and interviewed the couple, who "acknowledging they had shopped at Michaels and were the couple shown in the photograph, they denied the allegations being made against them," according to the press release.
In an interview Monday with CBS News, Vega-Martinez said that when the police first inquired about the alleged kidnapping attempt, she and her husband found it funny. "Because we have five children of our own, the thought of being accused of something so ridiculous was comical," she said.
Vega-Martinez said when reality set in, it was "heartbreaking" and made them "angry." However, she was not worried she and her husband would be found guilty. "I felt that nothing had happened that day, and there'd be enough digital documentation or proof to justify everything that we said," she told CBS News.
The investigation produced no evidence or witnesses corroborating the account provided by Sorensen and "evidence gathered served to support the account provided by the couple from the store," the department said.
While the investigation was considered closed in December, the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office announced on Thursday that it was filing charges against Sorensen for giving false information to a police officer and giving false information to a police dispatcher, Petaluma Police Department Deputy Chief of Police Brian Miller told CBS News.
In an email to CBS News, the District Attorney's Office confirmed Sorensen's charges and said she is due in court on May 13.
Now, Vega-Martinez is looking for further justice. "I'm happy that she's charged, but I of course would have been happier if it had been attached to a hate crime," she said. "But that just gives me the strength and the gung-ho to bring the CAREN Act to Petaluma."
The CAREN Act, or Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, wasin July 2020. It came after the name "Karen" has become a popular term to describe white women who engage in racist behavior.
The San Francisco board of supervisors approved the legislation in October banning false, racially-biased calls to 911.
Vega-Martinez said Sorensen likely falsely accused the couple because "she stepped outside of her bubble and she saw two people who didn't look like maybe the normal people that she interacts with...and we just happen to be of a different skin tone and our dress attire is maybe not what she was accustom to."
"You combine that with somebody who wants instant fame and glorification...and you end up in this scenario," Vega-Martinez said.
She said had the CAREN Act already been in play, Sorensen would've likely been charged with a hate crime.
Vega-Martinez said she was recently asked by the mayor of Petaluma to join an ad-hoc police oversight committee, where she introduced the idea of the CAREN Act. "We will definitely push for that," she said. "I think once people hear our story and they understand this is more common than not, then people will definitely support it. It's just another way to protect us."
She said she hopes "other people learn from Katie's mistake."
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