One grocery cart = 11 days in jail

Saturday routine leads one man to jail time

On March 10, two brothers, ages 10 and 11, were pushing a Winn-Dixie shopping cart down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when an Atlanta police officer pulled to the curb.

The officer asked the boys where they got the cart. The boys said it came from the grocery store, and their dad had asked them to push it to their apartment, two blocks away.

The family used the cart to haul wash to a laundromat adjacent to the grocery store. While the clothes were in the washer, father and sons would do their shopping, haul the food and clothes home and then return the cart.

The officer ordered the boys into his patrol car's backseat. He wedged the buggy into the trunk. He brought the boys home, cuffed their father in front of them and took him away to jail.

"This placed an emotional strain on my kids," says Livingston Thomas Jr., 47. "My youngest child started crying immediately."

Thomas, a single father, had just enough time to ask that a neighbor care for the boys until his 15-year-old daughter returned home. He was booked that day for shoplifting the $175 cart.

Because he couldn't make his $3,000 bond, Thomas spent a total of 11 days in jail. The officer who arrested him failed to show up at either of Thomas' two court appearances. The judge held Thomas after the first officer was a no-show. After the second, the judge let Thomas go.

Thomas says he missed so much work that he lost his job repairing trailers at a Marietta shop. But what really gets him is that a Winn-Dixie manager had promised that he could use the cart, as long as he returned it. That's Thomas' side, anyway.

The store manager told police he granted no such permission to Thomas, the incident report states. When contacted by phone, the store manager said he was unfamiliar with any cart-borrowing policy. He also said he was not familiar with Thomas' arrest.

Thomas says he has plans to file suit against the police department and file complaints against his arresting officer and the Municipal Court judge who allowed him to be jailed for so long.

"I won't touch a buggy ever again," Thomas says. "I told my kids that no matter how strained our condition is, we will hold out until we can get the car fixed."??