crimesider

Pregnant Hawaii mom arrested for stealing $2 sandwiches, state briefly takes daughter away

AP Photo, file
Nicole Leszczynski (right) and her 2-year-old daughter
KGMB

(CBS/AP) HONOLULU - Nicole Leszczynski couldn't imagine that two chicken salad sandwiches would land her and her husband in jail and her 2-year-old daughter in Hawaii state custody. But it happened a week ago, when the 30-weeks-pregnant woman says she forgot to pay for her snack while shopping in a Honolulu supermarket.

Hawaii uh-O!

Leszczynski, 28, and her husband Marcin, 33, were handcuffed, searched then released on $50 bail each. Their ordeal at the police station lasted a few hours, but their daughter Zofia spent the night away from her parents in a case that sparked outrage and forced the Safeway supermarket chain to review the incident.

"That's kind of harsh to go to jail and have your daughter removed from your care for something like this," Nicole told CBS affiliate KGMB.

"It was the most ridiculous chain of events that happened," Leszczynski said while sobbing Monday. "It's still hard to believe what happened."

The family had moved to an apartment near downtown Honolulu from California two weeks ago. Still settling in, they ventured out Wednesday to stock up on groceries, took the bus, got lost, and ended up at a Safeway supermarket.

Famished, the former Air Force staff sergeant picked up the two sandwiches that together cost $5. She openly munched on one while they shopped, saving the wrapper to be scanned at the register later.

But they forgot to pay for the sandwiches as they checked out with about $50 worth of groceries.

"When the security guard questioned us, I was really embarrassed, I was horrified," she said. They were led upstairs, where the couple expected to get a lecture, pay for the sandwiches, and be allowed on their way.

But store managers wouldn't allow them to pay for the sandwiches, she said.

"I asked to talk to a manager and he said it was against their policy to pay for items that left the store," she said. "The security guard said we were being charged with shoplifting."

Four hours later, a police officer arrived and read them their rights. A woman from the state Child Welfare Services arrived to take Zofia away.

The couple was handcuffed and driven separately to police headquarters a few blocks away, where they were searched, had their mug shots taken and then released after paying bail. A police officer escorted them back to the store - which banned them for a year, Leszczynski said - where they picked up their groceries and walked home just before midnight.

Zofia was returned after an 18-hour separation from her parents.

In a statement, Safeway said it's committed to serving families, but "it appears we may not have handled this matter in the best possible way," KGMB reported.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Safeway president of Northern California operations Karl Shroeder called Nicole and apologized.

The couple was initially charged with fourth-degree theft, a petty misdemeanor, according to the city prosecutor's office. However, Safeway now says it will not press charges.