District Attorney Bonnie Roesink and Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James address a crowd at the Routt County Commissioners meeting Tuesday about two Rainbow Family gatherers who were sentenced to six months in jail for trespassing at Sweet Pea Produce.
The complete discussion about sentencing of two men who stole produce from Sweet Pea (approx. an hour long)
Steamboat Springs District Attorney Bonnie Roesink said Tuesday that evidence shows two Rainbow Family of Living Light gathering participants entered Sweet Pea Produce and stole fresh food, thus committing felony burglary.
Jonathon Hieb, one of the store's owners, maintains that the men never entered the locked retail portion of the store. He contends that he did not think the men should have been charged with a felony and that he told the DA's office that he did not think the men should be sentenced to jail time.
Roesink said she supports the options Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James gave Giles Charle, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., and David Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa. She said justice was served in the men's decision to plead guilty to misdemeanor trespass and serve six months in jail. The men began serving their sentence last week.
St. James said, with good time, the men will be out in 108 days. St. James said that if he thought the men simply took food from a trash area at Sweet Pea Produce, he would have handled the case differently and may have dismissed the charges. He said that before the appearance of the story in the media, the store owners never indicated that they thought the men did not enter the store.
"If this was the case of two guys diving into a Dumpster, I would agree that what has happened is excessive," he said. "But that's not the case. Based on the police reports, those were not the facts."
The men were arrested by Steamboat Springs police officers the night of June 26 on suspicion of felony second-degree burglary after they admittedly took produce from the open air market on Yampa Street.
Roesink, St. James and police maintain that the men entered the retail portion of the store and stole fresh produce; Charle, Siller and the store's owners maintain that the men never entered the locked retail portion of the store and took only over-ripe produce in the trash area that the store sometimes sells to pig farmers.
St. James said Katherine Zambrana, who owns the store with Hieb, told police the night of the incident that she wanted to "press charges all the way."
Police reports confirm that Zambrana told police what the men had taken came from inside the store, that it amounted to about $15 in produce, that a gate to the store was left ajar and that she did want to press charges. St. James said Zambrana went so far as to yell at the men while they were in the police car.
Hieb said he and Zambrana were angry when they were contacted about the possible burglary and thought the men might have damaged the store or stolen from it. Hieb said they inspected the store the next day and realized that the men never got inside the store and only took over-ripe fruits and vegetables from the trash area. At that point, he said, the owners decided they did not wish to pursue the case further.
Hieb and Zambrana declined to fill out victim statements given to them by officers. Hieb said they thought that would end the matter. Weeks later, he said, he learned from the men's defense attorney what charges and sentences the men were facing. Hieb said he contacted St. James and told him he did not think the men should face felony charges and that they should not serve time in jail.
St. James noted that the men had more than $500 between them when they were arrested and that the incident occurred at about 8:30 p.m. Those facts contradict the men's assertion that they only took from Sweet Pea because "nothing else was open."
In an interview at the jail Tuesday, Charle and Siller reiterated that they never entered the store and took food from the trash area.
"No. We never entered the store," Charle said. "We stepped over a rope, leaned over a (chest-high) fence and took some rotting produce out of a box. We never had the intent to commit a crime. We even parked right out in front of the store."
Charle and Siller said they saw chain grocery stores were open as they passed through Steamboat Springs, but opted to try to purchase their food from a natural foods or organic foods store, such as Sweet Pea, before heading to the Rainbow gathering in North Routt County.
"We came into town hoping that a natural food or locally owned produce store would be open," Siller said. "We saw Safeway was open, but we try to support local businesses."
The men said after they realized they weren't going to be able to salvage much from the Sweet Pea trashcans, that they would have probably gone back to Safeway if they hadn't been arrested.
Charle and Siller said their story has never changed.
St. James said Hieb contacted him several weeks after the incident and that Hieb said he disagreed with the charges and did not want the men to serve time in jail. But St. James said neither Hieb nor Zambrana ever indicated that he or she thought the men had not entered the store.
Roesink said St. James has an obligation to take into consideration a victim's statement, but has a greater obligation to represent the community as a whole, and in this case, the business community.
"This wasn't a Rainbow thing," Roesink said. "(St. James) is sending a message to anyone who comes into Steamboat Springs that this is what will happen if you come here and break into a business regardless of which business it is or what is taken."
Steamboat Springs police Capt. Det. Bob Del Valle agreed.
"The message is if you're going to break into a building and put the business community at risk, we should make an example of people like that," he said.
The men had the option to plead not guilty to the charges if they did not think they had committed the crime, St. James said. The men also could have pleaded guilty to a deferred felony burglary and spent 90 days in jail. Under that option, the men's record would have been cleared after completing two years of supervised probation.
The men have said they accepted the misdemeanor bec-ause they did not want to risk felony convictions. Several attorneys advised them to accept the misdemeanor and the six-month sentence.
St. James said the plea offered the men was consistent with what most young adults with no prior convictions are given in similar situations.
Roesink also said Tuesday that she is creating a citizens review committee to examine cases and offer feedback on the way those cases are handled by her office.
"We are here to represent the people of the state of Colorado and the people of this jurisdiction," she said. "I should be doing what they want and how they want law enforcement enforced. I will be listening to that."
At the same time, Roesink said she would rather be perceived as "too tough, rather than too lenient" on crime and criminals.
- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org