Alleged grocery grabber faces two felony charges

Posted 11/29/22

A Port Townsend woman is facing charges of second-degree burglary and second-degree theft after she allegedly loaded up grocery carts full of items from Safeway and was found by police with a …

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Alleged grocery grabber faces two felony charges

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A Port Townsend woman is facing charges of second-degree burglary and second-degree theft after she allegedly loaded up grocery carts full of items from Safeway and was found by police with a borrowed car packed with the stolen goods.

Ja’nelle Ashley Strong, 37, was booked into Jefferson County Jail Sunday following her arrest in Port Townsend.

Strong made her first appearance in Jefferson County Superior Court Monday, via a video link from the jail, and Court Commissioner Micky Forbes set bail at $1,000.

Strong is also accused of third-degree driving with a suspended license. Her arraignment was set for Friday, Dec. 2.

According to court documents, police were called about 5 p.m. Sunday after a woman pushed a loaded shopping cart out of Safeway without paying for the merchandise.

Video surveillance from the store showed a woman in a red sweatshirt and black pants pushing a shopping cart out of the store, with the bottom rack of the cart filled with cartons of Sprite soda while a dog bed was placed on top of the cart, covering the other items.

A store employee followed the woman, later identified as Strong, as she got into a Saturn and drove away. The worker noted the woman’s license plate number, and police were waiting for her when she returned home.

Strong allegedly told officers she had gone back to the store “more than once to steal multiple cartloads of goods,” according to an incident report from the Port Townsend Police Department.

The items were for different households of friends who needed essential items, Strong told police, including diapers and food. Police noted the stolen items included “non-essential and comfort items” for Strong and others, according to the  police report.

The stolen items totaled $2,473.93 in value.

During Strong’s first appearance in court Monday, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tuppence Macintyre said Strong had just been released from in-patient treatment less than a week earlier.

“That’s a little troubling,” Macintyre said.

And while Strong had said most of the items she took were for other people, Macintyre said the theft required a significant amount of work.

“She put a lot of effort into it,” Macintyre said.

Macintyre also said Strong had a history of theft and a criminal record that stretched back to 2003, including a recent conviction in 2021 for stealing from a Walmart  store in Clallam County.

Strong also had 13 prior warrants for her arrest, Macintyre said.

Attorney Scott Charlton, representing Strong, challenged the legal basis of the second-degree burglary charge, and noted that it had not been shown that Strong had been trespassed from the grocery store previously.

Charlton insisted Strong was not at risk to commit a violent offense, and that the allegations involved constituted property crimes.

He said Strong had an excellent record of appearing in court when necessary and keeping her in jail was “purely punitive.”

“It doesn’t protect the community and it doesn’t address the fact that she is not a risk to not appear, and she’s not a risk to commit a violent offense,” Charlton said.

Forbes said she was familiar with Strong in family court, and wondered aloud if Strong should be released on her own personal recognizance.

Forbes said she didn’t think Strong posed a danger to the community, but added she didn’t have any confidence that Strong wouldn’t commit another property crime if released immediately.

“I don’t know what on Earth is going through your head, even with all the time I spend with you,” Forbes told Strong.

While prosecutors had asked that bail be set at $5,000, Forbes decided to set bail at $1,000.

“I’m honestly very sorry,” Forbes told Strong, acknowledging she would spend Thanksgiving behind bars.

“I’m floored, as well, to see that you are where you are,” Forbes said.

Conviction of second-degree burglary can result in a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, while conviction of second-degree theft has a maximum penalty of five years and a $10,000 fine.

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