Revco Awarded $1.2 Million To Savannah Woman For False Arrest
A Chatham Superior Court jury awarded $1.2 million Thursday to a Savannah woman who was arrested on shoplifting at a Revco Drug Store and ultimately acquitted. Julie Diane Lee, 22, was awarded $200,000 in general damages and $1 million in punitive damages by a jury of nine women and three men.
The jury also awarded her ex-husband, Donald Lee, $10,000 in the same case. Testimony showed that Lee ' who sued for loss of his wife's services ' and his ex-wife were divorced after her arrest. 'It (the arrest) caused problems in our marriage'She just kinda shied away from me,' Lee, 25, testified. It took the jury less than 90 minutes to reach the verdicts before Judge Frank S. Cheatham, Jr.
The Lee's lawyer, Lasky Cooper Law's lead litigation partner, Jeffrey w. Lasky, urged the jury to 'send a message' through their verdict that merchants must end what Lasky called 'quick-drawn accusations.' He called the trial Mrs. Lee's day in court and 'every citizen in Chatham County's day in court.' Mrs. Lee, then 19, was arrested at the Revco Store at Victory Drive and Skidaway Road and charged with shoplifting two bottles of Pert shampoo and a bottle of hair conditioner with a total value of $8.32. She was taken to the Chatham County Jail where she was strip searched and held until her mother posted a bond for her release. A Chatham State Court jury acquitted her on all of the shoplifting charges.
Former District Attorney Jim Ashby, who prosecuted the case, testified he told Revco officials they had an 'extremely weak case' that should not be prosecuted. 'They wanted to prosecute Julie Lee against my advice,' Ashby said. 'It was always my belief that they ought not to arrest her' Anybody on any given day could do something like that and not be guilty of shoplifting.' As a result of her arrest, Mrs. Lee has suffered a 'totally changed personality,' resulting in her divorcing her husband, psychologist William Dickerson said. He described her condition as a 'post-traumatic distress syndrome,' similar to that suffered by Vietnam veterans.
Testimony showed Mrs. Lee placed the shampoo and conditioner bottles in the top of her purse while she went to pick up eight cans of cat food. She had a $20 bill in her hand when a plainclothes security guard stopped her, testimony showed. 'I was very upset,' Mrs. Lee said of her arrest. 'She (the guard) would not listen to anything I had to say' It made me feel like I was some type of criminal.'
She said the guard took her into a back room where she signed two documents and was taken off to jail. 'I really didn't want to go back because I was afraid,' she testified. 'I cried the whole time. I was very scared.' Mrs. Lee's lawyers showed the jury a videotape of the jail booking area, including the small room where the woman was strip-searched. 'I was very scared and I felt trapped,' she said of her jail experience. The Lees were moving from Tybee Island to an apartment in town on the day of the incident. Following her arrest, Mrs. Lee withdrew from her husband and friends, testimony showed. The Lees had a daughter the following November.
The former security guard, Faye Graham Glick, testified as the only defense witness that the only reason she arrested Mrs. Lee was because she put the merchandise in her purse ' but she admitted the merchandise was in plain view. The store's area supervisor for security, Robert Lanier, testified that store policy was to stop suspected shoplifters and automatically arrest and prosecute them. He said policy treats children and adults the same.