LEESBURG — Businessman Mike Rogers assumed he’d done everything as a citizen and businessman he could to protect his own goods — and, with that, his livelihood — and his community.
Rogers collected surveillance video of an alleged thief going through his business, Mike’s Country Store, and placing expensive cuts of meat in his oversized coat and in a shopping cart and then walking out of the store without paying for the goods. Rogers’ employees helped him collect information about the alleged thief and his getaway car, and Rogers filed a report with local law enforcement.
Later, Rogers paid an informant out of his own pocket to ascertain the whereabouts of the alleged thief, and he gave police a call when the suspect was in a location that would make it easy for him to be captured.
In other words, Rogers wrapped the case up in a package, complete with decorative bow, and handed it over to law enforcement.
Then he got this call.
“Umm, Mr. Rogers, we can’t arrest the man you have on video, the man who was identified (by the informant) as the person who robbed your store,” Rogers was told. “We’re holding him now on another charge, but we can’t charge him for the crime at your store because you haven’t taken out a warrant for his arrest.”
We’ll pause for a second to let that sink in. Rogers takes detailed surveillance video to law enforcement of a crime being committed; he has proof-positive identification of the suspect, and he clues police in on the location of the individual. And, yet, in order for an arrest to be made, Rogers has to ride to city hall and take out a warrant.
“It gets better than that — or worse, depending on how you look at it,” Rogers said as he recounted the ongoing saga. “I take the time to drive down to the courthouse, go through the process of taking out a warrant, and then they hit me with: ‘That’ll be $20.’ I thought I heard the clerk wrong, so I asked her to repeat what she said. She said I had to pay $20 for the warrant to become effective.
“That blew my mind. I said, ‘Wait a minute. The store owner has to pay you $20 to arrest a criminal that you have on video committing the crime?’ Here’s what she said to me: ‘It’s the law.’”
After he recovered from his initial shock, Rogers decided that, rather than “just letting it go” as so many have done in the past, he would do something about this outrageous quirk in the justice system.
“I get it,” he said. “Rather than pay the $55 a day or whatever it is to house a criminal in the local jail, everyone has decided it’s more cost-effective to just let people like that go. It’s just another unbelievable part of our system.
“But they told me at Magistrate Court that in order to change the law, I’d have to go to our local legislators. They’re the only ones who can change local law.”
So Rogers decided he’s going to do just that.
“This is a part of the system that is so unfair to business owners and taxpayers,” he said. “So I am 100 percent planning to talk to our local legislators. But I believe there is strength in numbers, so I am encouraging other local business owners to get in touch with me (229-869-7611) and talk about some of the issues they’ve had. I’d like to get some cumulative knowledge before I go to our legislators.
“I believe if enough local businesses work together, we can get some pro-business legislation in our local and state government. And we won’t have to go through ridiculous situations like what I’ve been going through.”