Betty Jo Buonauro Convicted Radio Theft from Drug Store

On July 28, Frank Ramos was store manager of the Clark Drug Store in Temple City. He was responsible for running all the operations of the store, including safeguarding store merchandise, but he was not a security officer.

At about 11 a.m. he observed Betty Jo Buonauro standing behind a counter, where customers were normally not allowed, in the photo department. Expensive items were stored at that display counter and on the shelf behind. Mr. Ramos stepped briefly into a storeroom and when he came back out Betty Jo Buonauro was gone from the counter. A customer came up to Frank Ramos and said, “A lady just took two radios from the department and put them in her purse.” The customer’s description of the lady matched the person Frank Ramos had seen behind the counter, Betty Jo Buonauro.

Mr. Ramos immediately went to the checkstand area and closed it off with a shopping cart and chain. He then observed Betty Jo Buonauro in aisle 16. He approached her and stated, “Will you please come with me to the back room, Ma’am? I would like to see what you have in your purse.” Without saying a word, she opened up her purse, took out a store radio, handed or threw it to him, and ran towards the checkstand. At the time Betty Jo Buonauro had opened her purse, however, Frank Ramos observed a second store radio.

Frank Ramos caught up with Betty Jo Buonauro near the checkstand. He told her she would have to come with him and two female employees to the storeroom. When she refused, Mr. Ramos “advised her she was under citizen’s arrest for shoplifting that she will have to go to the back on her own or we will have to force her to the back.” The two female employees took Betty Jo Buonauro by the arms and Mr. Ramos helped push Buonauro to the back of the store.

At the back of the store Mr. Ramos asked Buonauro for the other item in her purse and she handed the second radio to him. He asked if she had any money with which to buy the item and she said no. He asked Buonauro to fill out a form used by the store. She signed the form, giving a false name and address.

A deputy sheriff was summoned. When Deputy Sciarabba arrived, Buonauro gave him the same false name and address. She stated she had no money with which to purchase the radios but that she had brought them into the store herself to exchange them. She did not have a receipt. When booked at the sheriff’s station, Betty Jo Buonauro had $1.17 in her possession.

Betty Jo Buonauro testified in her own defense. She stated that she came into the store for ice cream and saw the two radios on sale. She put them in her purse intending to buy them. She testified she had $120 in her purse and that the sheriff’s booking records were in error. She also had a Master Charge card she could have used. She ran from Frank Ramos because she was scared. He had come running up to her and grabbed her purse from her.

Buonauro was convicted by jury trial of petty theft with a prior conviction of grand theft and was sentenced to state prison.

Buonauro attempts to reargue the weight of the evidence, contending that Betty Jo Buonauro’s version of the events should have been believed, namely, that Betty Jo Buonauro intended to pay for the radios but lost her composure when confronted by Mr. Ramos. The credibility of Buonauro’s explanation was for the jury to determine.

Betty Jo Buonauro contends that Frank Ramos acted unlawfully and that all fruits of his conduct should have been suppressed as evidence. Frank Ramos did not act unlawfully. After having observed Betty Jo Buonauro behind the counter where customers were normally not allowed, and then being alerted by another customer that Buonauro had placed two radios in her purse, Frank Ramos had a merchant’s privilege to detain Buonauro for investigation of shoplifting. When Mr. Ramos first approached Buonauro about this matter, she voluntarily handed or threw one of the radios to him, then fled with the other radio which he observed at that time.

The judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Five.

The facts summarized above are excerpted from what was written by the Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Five. More information is available from the source documents: 37353, Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Five, December 19, 1980, opinion of Ashby with Kaus and Hastings concurring.