Retail Theft Leads to School Lockdown and Manhunt Chase

October 22, 2022 Criminal Defense, Theft/Property Crimes

An alleged theft that took place in South Florida last week caused several schools to go into lockdown. Aside from parents and students scrambling to find safety during the lockdown, police were sent on a multi-hour foot chase of a man who was caught stealing from a local Target.

We will cover the details of the case along with information on retail theft in Florida.

What was the Incident?

On October 13th, 2022, two men were arrested after an extensive manhunt with Coral Springs police. Kevlin Edwards, 30, and Sheldon Gray, 31, were accused of stealing multiple appliances from a Target in Coral Springs.

According to the arrest report, Gray was dressed in disguise as a woman and went into the nearby Target around 3:30 pm. Gray allegedly walked out of Target with a kitchen mixer, breast pump, a vacuum, and clothing all equating to a value of $856.

Gray exited the store and hopped in a stolen minivan waiting outside for him, with Edwards driving behind the wheel. The two took off away from the Target, fleeing from the alerted theft. Edwards drove at high speeds, resulting in him crashing on the southbound off-ramp of the Sawgrass Expressway.

Police managed to catch Gray after the crash, but Edwards initially got away. His escape resulted in several schools and a retirement community going into lockdown in the Coral Springs and Parkland areas. Police were fearful that Gray was armed and dangerous.

The schools that were placed into lockdown included Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Westglades Middle School, Mary Help of Christians Catholic School, and Aston Gardens in Parkland. Motorists were left stranded on the roads around Coral Springs, and parents of the nearby school scrambled to pick up their children during the hours-long manhunt.

After an extensive two-hour-long search, Edwards was spotted. Police found the suspect running across the Sawgrass Expressway and later arrested him in front of the Cleveland Clinic building on University Drive. The Coral Springs police were informed that the minivan Edwards was driving was from a carjacking case that happened several days earlier.

Edwards has been charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, retail theft, obstructing officers, and a pedestrian violation of running across the highway. Gray is facing charges of retail theft and trespassing.

Retail Theft Charges in Florida

While most theft crimes are codified under Florida Statute section 812.014, if the theft is from a retailer or farm then it’s prosecuted under Florida Statute section 812.015 which focuses on “retail theft.” Under Florida law, retail theft is defined as one of the following:

  • The defendant is accused of taking possession of or carrying away merchandise, property, money, or negotiable documents; or
  • The defendant is accused of removing a shopping cart with the intent to deprive the merchant of the possession, use, benefit, or full retail value; or
  • The defendant is accused of transferring merchandise from one container to another; or
  • The defendant is accused of removing or altering a price tag, universal product code, or label.

As of October 2019, Florida Legislature updated the law on retail theft. The threshold amount for a third-degree felony retail theft charge has now gone up from $300 or more to $750 or more. In addition, the new law also changed the amount of time for the aggregation period from 48 hours up to 30 days.

A retail theft charge can result in either a third-degree felony or a second-degree felony. A third-degree felony retail theft charge is considered when an individual has taken an aggregated retail value of merchandise over a 30-day period which is worth over $750. A third-degree felony in Florida has the following penalties:

  • Up to $5,000 in fines
  • Up to five years in prison
  • Up to five years of probation

Under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code, third-degree retail theft is assigned a Level 5 offense. That means the judge can sentence the defendant to probation, or they can sentence the defendant up to the statutory maximum of five years in prison.

A second-degree felony retail charge is committed if the defendant has taken an aggregated retail value of over $3,000 in over a 30-day period; or if the defendant has previously been convicted of retail theft after committing a subsequent retail theft crime. A second-degree felony in Florida has the following penalties:

  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Up to fifteen years in prison
  • Up to fifteen years of probation

The Florida Criminal Punishment Code also ranks second-degree felony retail theft as a Level 5 offense. That means the judge can sentence the defendant to probation, or they can sentence the defendant up to the statutory maximum of fifteen years in prison.

Defenses to Retail Theft in Florida

The following are potential defenses a defendant can use if they have been charged with a retail theft crime:

  1. Equal Ownership – If the defendant was a co-owner of the retail store in which the retail theft occurred, they can use equal ownership as a defense.
  2. Good Faith Belief – The prosecution must be able to prove that the retail theft occurred with the intent to steal. The defendant can claim that they took the item with good faith belief in the right to the property. This could also be seen as having to show that the defendant intended to deprive the items of the merchant.
  3. Mere Presence – If the defendant was merely present at the scene of the retail theft crime, they could use mere presence as a defense. Florida law explains that a defendant cannot be convicted as an accomplice unless there is proof that they acted in a way to further the crime of retail theft.
  4. Valueless Property – Florida law specifies that retail theft can only be prosecuted if the stolen items are considered “property.” If the defendant stole an item that was thrown in a dumpster, it presumably holds no value and therefore cannot be used to charge for retail theft.
  5. Voluntary and Involuntary Abandonment – A voluntary abandonment is when the defendant’s conscious causes them to prevent the attempted retail theft from happening. An involuntary abandonment is when an unanticipated circumstance (if someone spotted the attempted theft) caused the defendant to stop the attempted retail theft. The difference between the two is that voluntary theft can be used as a defense in a case, whereas involuntary abandonment cannot be used as a defense.

A defendant’s best bet at figuring out which defense works best for their retail theft case is to work directly with a skilled defense attorney in Florida.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of retail theft, make sure you prioritize speaking with an experienced Tallahassee theft defense attorney in your area. A conviction can lead to expensive fines, potential prison time, and causing difficulties in your future. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients across the state for various criminal charges. Contact us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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