After four years, a Davis man soon will get his day in court over being arrested for trespassing at the local co-op
Does being a high-maintenance pain justify a potentially false arrest and prosecution? Glenn Rice doesn’t think so. He was arrested, handcuffed and hauled off by police just for visiting the Davis Food Co-op, where he’d been a loyal, if vocal, member for more than 20 years.
That’s the way Rice sees it, and that’s why he’s suing the cooperative and four of its employees for having him arrested for trespassing while he was shopping in the grocery store, and for terminating his membership without following the cooperative bylaws and state law.
A trial date is about to be set for spring or early summer. The 59-year-old Rice has been waiting more than four years to ask a Yolo County Superior Court jury to consider his legal claims against the cooperative: violations of his civil rights, false imprisonment, battery, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, premises liability and general negligence.
A Co-op member for more than 20 years, Rice was a regular albeit a high-maintenance, demanding, and at times annoyingly vocal shopper at the grocery store. Rice said his frustrations stem from his belief that the cooperative has changed from the days when it was run by a volunteer work force, and that the food quality and service has suffered as a result. Rice admits he doesn’t hesitate to make his concerns known to the employees.
The cooperative mission statement reads, “We are a welcoming, responsive and pleasing environment,” but Rice alleges that the environment at the store was anything but welcoming, responsive and pleasing on the night of October 22, 2002.
The chain-of-events leading to Rice’s arrest began on October 6, 2002, when he was shopping near the store’s closing time, according to court records. The delicatessen, which shut down for cleaning about a half hour before the store did, was closed. Rice had previously complained about the deli closing earlier than the store. That night, he told the deli employee that he was going to ask the Co-op’s board of directors to set the deli hours the same as the rest of the store.
Cathy Speck, the Co-op manager on duty that night, overheard the conversation and allegedly told Rice to “shut his mouth at once and to say nothing else to the deli employee,” and to leave the store, according to court records. Rice and Speck have a history of friction after previously being friends and having a falling out.
Rice refused to leave and completed his shopping without further incident.
Speck declined to talk to SN&R about the case, referring questions to the Co-op’s General Manager Eric Stromberg. Stromberg referred questions to attorney Babak Yousefzadeh, who also declined to comment.
The next day, Rice complained about Speck’s conduct to the Co-op’s board of directors at their monthly meeting. The board suggested Rice meet with Stromberg. They met a week later and hashed out Rice’s complaints about Speck and the complaints that other cooperative employees had about Rice. Stromberg told Rice he was welcome to continue shopping at the cooperative, but that he should avoid shopping on Mondays when Speck worked, according to court records.
On October 22, 2002, a Tuesday, Rice was shopping at Davis Co-op when two police officers walked up to him and told him that the store manager wanted him to leave. “Rice immediately became verbally upset [with the officers] and began to raise his voice. Rice stated he was a member of the Co-op and had a right to be there,” according to Officer Trevor Edens’ written report of the incident.
Rice was threatened with arrest if he refused to leave. “Rice then said to [the officers], ‘You will just have to arrest me then because I am not leaving,’ ” according to the report. The officers accommodated the obstinate shopper: Rice was handcuffed, driven to the police station and booked and cited for trespassing. In an unusual act of courtesy for a modern-day police force, the officers then gave Rice a ride home.
What Rice didn’t know was that five days before he was arrested, the Co-op’s general manager had sent a certified letter informing him that his membership had been terminated and that he was banned from the store. The day the letter was sent, store managers were notified to call the police if Rice entered the store, which they did when five days later he went shopping.
Rice, however, didn’t get the letter until more than a week after he was arrested. State law and the Co-op’s bylaws mandate that it give a 15-day notice to any member it intends to terminate. Members also have the right to a hearing to contest the termination not less than five days before the effective date of the expulsion.
Rice contends that in addition to being illegally arrested, he wasn’t legally notified of his termination and didn’t get a hearing so that he could contest the action. In April of 2003, Rice won round one of the fight when Yolo County Superior Court Judge Charles Van Court agreed that Rice hadn’t been properly notified of his expulsion from the Co-op at the time of his arrest and dismissed the trespassing case against him.
“In the written list of the 10 cooperative principles, it says members are expected to actively participate in making decisions and setting policies, and it always was that way, and that’s all I was doing,” Rice explained. “I would do it when I noticed that they were out of cottage cheese for the eighth time, or that something on the shelf was post dated and still on the shelf where it should have been pulled, or the frozen berries had been thawed and refrozen so that they were a solid brick and weren’t berries anymore.”
It was different, he said, when the employees were volunteers. “In the old days, when we were all what’s called ‘working members,’ we all worked two hours a month and we worked in the dairy or the produce or the meat, and it was our responsibility to watch out for stuff like that. But now the whole thing has changed—the place has gone down and down over the years.”
Encounters with Rice were occasionally the subject of written entries in a communal store diary used by employees to log their daily experiences, impressions or gripes. The diary excerpts were attached to Rice’s police report and obtained by SN&R. On one occasion, Rice complained that a specific brand of cottage cheese was out of stock, on another that the ATM machine was broken.
Several times, Rice expressed his irritation that the delicatessen closed a half-hour earlier than the rest of the store. In one diary entry, the employee who ran the deli vented about Rice’s complaints. “Basically, the guy takes his shopping so seriously he’s on another level,” the employee wrote.
Rice’s attorney, Philip Carey, concedes that his client tested the patience of several employees at the cooperative. “He’s a customer where you kind of roll your eyes and say, ‘OK, OK, here he comes again,’ ” Carey said. “But you don’t arrest someone for being annoying.”
Rice feels betrayed by the cooperative he helped get off the ground more than two decades ago. He has mixed emotions that the conflict has ended up in court. Mostly, he just wants his membership reinstated. “They claim I’ve been expelled,” he said. “But I consider myself a fully paid shareholder, and they need to affirm that and knock this off.”