By Guy Page
The case of an alleged Burlington shoplifter who April 18 threatened Church Street store employees with a knife after they asked for the merchandise back demonstrates the need for tougher laws to address the growing problem of organized retail theft, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said on WVMT this morning.
Here’s what police say happened:
Last Monday, Sabrina Kingsbury, 40, stole over $1000 in merchandise from a Church Street retail store. Kingsbury brandished a knife and threatened to stab them [store employees] if they tried to stop her from leaving the store with stolen merchandise.
Officers located Kingsbury nearby. She refused to comply with Officers orders to place her hands behind her back, requiring them to gain control of Kingsbury and placed her into handcuffs. Officers recovered the knife from Kingsbury’s person, police said.
While the police officer was transporting Kingsbury, she started to bang her head off the safety barrier equipped in the police cruiser, causing injury to herself, police said. Burlington Fire Department responded to the police department and subsequently transported her to the hospital for medical treatment.
Kingsbury was taken into custody for Assault and Robbery, and was held without bail and lodged at the Chittenden County Correctional Facility. She was arraigned in court today and remains being held without bail, police said last week.
Police say Kingsbury’s criminal history shows she has 3 felony convictions, 33 misdemeanor convictions, 3 unknown offense level charges, 6 assaultive crime convictions, 2 dangerous/deadly weapon charges, 2 violations of probation/parole convictions, 2 violation of court orders/conditions, and 8 previous failures to appear in court.
Speaking to Kurt Wright on Morning Drive today, Murad said there are two kinds of organized retail theft occurring in Vermont today. First, an organized crime gang from out-of-state (often from Boston or NYC) will drive up I-89 and steal wanted items from selected stores – for some reason, drug store vitamins are a high-priority item, he said.
That kind of organized retail theft has not yet afflicted Burlington in a serious way, Murad said. However, individual recidivist shoplifters are very active in Burlington. It is not uncommon for them to steal an item in the morning, post it on Facebook Marketplace or Craigs List, and return to the same store in the afternoon and steal more merchandise, he said.
Unlike other states, Vermont does not have a shoplifting “aggregate” law allowing prosecutors to add the value of multiple thefts together, thereby qualifying it for felony robbery.
A person commits retail theft when, intending to deprive a merchant of possession of merchandise, the person takes or carries away merchandise from a store without paying retail value.
According to criminaldefenselawyer.com, in Vermont retail theft of merchandise valued at more than $900 is a felony subject to 10 years in prison and up to a $1,000 fine. For retail theft of $900 or less, the penalty is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months’ incarceration and a $500 fine.
Kingsbury’s alleged theft exceeded $900, and therefore police could charge her with a felony. However, shoplifters of lesser-value goods are cited for misdemeanors and ordered to appear in court, often months hence. Jail time, either before or after sentencing, for “small” misdemeanor property crimes is uncommmon. However, a law allowing police and prosecutors to aggregate the value of the property at felony robbery levels would give the criminal justice system ability to hold and imprison shoplifting suspects more readily – if they so choose.
Murad also says other states punish more severely shoplifters who threaten bodily harm if asked to return the merchandise. Vermont has no such law, he said.