By Connor Kianpour
It isn’t every day that somebody is charged with a felony for attempting to steal a four dollar cherry pie from a Walmart. On September 16, 2018, however, circumstances arose which made such a seemingly innocuous act worthy of seeking such a harsh conviction, according to the Superior Court of Yolo County. On the day of the incident, the perpetrator of the crime—later identified as Michael James Modtland—was walking out of the Walmart on Main Street in Woodland with a cherry pie that he did not pay for when a loss prevention officer made contact with him in an attempt to stop the theft. Mr. Modtland struck the loss prevention officer with a closed fist on the side of his head and fled the scene of the crime with the pie in hand.
On October 5, 2018, the preliminary hearing for Mr. Modtland took place in Department 14 of the courthouse, Judge David Rosenberg presiding. Mr. Modtland has been charged with violating PC §211/212.5(c) which prohibits the taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, and against his or her will by means of force or fear. Mr. Modtland was represented by John Sage from the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office.
The prosecution first called to the stand Officer Pittsa Pholkham who was the chief investigative officer in this case. On September 16, 2018, Officer Pholkham and his partner Officer Evan Black were dispatched to the Walmart on 1720 East Main Street in Woodland as there was reportedly a second degree robbery in progress. Officer Pholkham testified that, once they got to the Walmart, ten minutes after they were initially dispatched the officers spoke to the loss prevention officer who was struck. The loss prevention officer reported that Mr. Modtland stole the pie and struck the officer before fleeing the scene of the crime with half of the pie in hand, as the other half was alleged to have littered the ground after Mr. Modtland dropped the pie when he struck the officer.
During cross-examination, Mr. Sage asked Officer Pholkham if, upon his arrival, there was any pie found on the ground where the incident took place, and Officer Pholkham acknowledged that indeed there was not. Pholkham further testified that he found, upon his arrival, no cherry pie stains on the clothing of the loss prevention officer, which there would have been had Mr. Modtland thrown and dropped the pie in the officer’s direction as the officer had indicated. Furthermore, the only piece of evidence pertaining to the stolen pie submitted to the court by the prosecution was a picture of a cherry pie—not the cherry pie that was stolen from the Walmart, but an example of a pie from Walmart that resembled the stolen pie. Mr. Sage also brought to light during his cross-examination that the details regarding the throwing and dropping of the pie were intimated to Mr. Pholkham in his second investigation with the loss prevention officer, which took place over the phone 12 days after the incident.
The second and final witness called to stand was Officer Evan Black, also of the Woodland Police Department. Officer Black, in his testimony, testified that the loss prevention officer at Walmart did indeed make it known to Mr. Modtland that he was a loss prevention officer, but he acknowledged that it was unclear as to whether this fact was made known to Mr. Modtland before or after the officer made contact with him.
In his closing argument, Mr. Sage maintained that this charge should have been registered as a PC §459.5 misdemeanor, defining shoplifting. Regardless, Judge Rosenberg ruled that Mr. Modtland will have to answer to the felony charges levied against him because he aggressed against a loss prevention officer. The arraignment for this case is scheduled for October 19, 2018 at 10 AM.