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Posted at 01:49 PM ET, 11/01/2011

Pregnant mom arrested at Safeway and loses custody of toddler over sandwiches


(Paul Sakuma - AP)

Update: Safeway apologizes and decides not to prosecute.

I might never again grab a granola bar for fuel during the grocery-shopping-with-kids trek. Not after reading the chilling story of a pregnant mother who, with her husband and daughter in tow, ordered two sandwiches at Safeway and ate one while she shopped. She ended up being arrested for shoplifting and temporarily losing custody of her toddler for an entire night.

The episode played out at a Hono­lulu Safeway last week and is just now hitting the national news.

According to today’s Associated Press story: “[Nicole] 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.”

The mother later told a reporter: “It was the most ridiculous chain of events that happened,” she said while sobbing Monday. “It’s still hard to believe what happened.”

She went on:

“I didn’t want Zofia to be scared because she’s never spent a night away from us. She didn’t have her stuffed animal. She didn’t have her toothbrush.”

There did, in fact, seem to be a crime. When Leszczynski checked out, she did not pay for the sandwiches, though she later said she intended to pay and had saved the wrapper from the sandwich counter to do just that.

I have found myself in this situation countless times. I am that mom. Cart full, aisles crowded, trying to remember if we need breadcrumbs or if I’m on snack duty this week while half-paying attention to my whiny and grabby girls.

I try to appease them with snacks fresh off the shelves and do my best to save the wrappers for checkout. Sometimes I grab a snack for me, too. (We do it so often, the girls even know which store offers which shopping treat: In Trader Joe’s it’s the fruit strips; in Target it’s protein bars; in Safeway it’s rice cakes.)

Plus, many of us who’ve been pregnant know those intense hunger pangs can come on fast and vicious. If food doesn’t come quick, than a fainting spell will.

The problem here was not in the eating-while-shopping. It was in the no-paying. None of the mitigating factors justify shop-lifting, especially in a case where there seemed to be two adults involved.

But the reaction was clearly overkill. Officials repeatedly told the family they were “following policy” as the situation grew more and more absurd. Grocery store officials said they never intended for the child to be taken away; police said it is standard procedure for child welfare officials to swoop in when parents are arrested.

To arrest these parents was ridiculous in the first place. Far worse, for the police to remove a child from those parents because of two sandwiches when there is real neglect in this world is unconscionable.

Safeway officials have said they will review the case, according to the AP. While they’re at it, perhaps the store might provide some sensitivity training for employees.

Lesson one: Walk a mile in a pregnant mom’s grocery-shopping shoes and see if you don’t forget a thing or two.

Lesson two: Have a child and when she’s a toddler watch officials come and yank her away from you for the night. See if remorse doesn’t turn to rage.

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By  |  01:49 PM ET, 11/01/2011

 
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