STOCKTON, Calif. — Abigail Wooldridge is an avid thrift store shopper.
"I love to go to the thrift store. For one thing, you...find things you won't find in the new stores," Wooldridge said.
Wooldridge is part of the management team at a senior apartment complex in Stockton. She buys pictures, knick-knacks and all sorts of things to decorate the lobby and sitting rooms. But, last week while shopping at Stockton's Big Valley Thrift Store for teapots to decorate part of a kitchen remodel, she says a guard stopped her to look inside her bag.
"He says, you can not have that big bag in here," Wooldridge said. "But then I go, but this is my bag where I carry my things."
She says the guard pointed to a sign at the front of the store saying you can not come inside with a big bag. She then says the guard asked her what she had in her bag.
She says she pulled out several items that belonged to her including a wallet, reading glasses, and a small umbrella. She says the guard then told her to either leave her purse at the counter or in her car.
Wooldridge said the guard then asked her to leave and she was escorted out.
"I felt embarrassed. I felt violated. I feel humiliated," Wooldridge said.
The incident was posted by Wooldridge's daughter Teresa Cortez on Facebook garnering hundreds of comments, either supporting Wooldridge or supporting the store's right to refuse customers with big bags.
"I wanted to post that because I had seen what had happened to my mom, her feelings, the way she had felt what had happened. She was very upset. She was, you know, shaken up about the whole thing," said Cortez.
Big Valley Thrift says their store window has a sign that clearly states "No big purses, bags, backpacks and strollers are not allowed in the store. There's no exceptions."
They say they have to enforce their rules due to the high amount of shoplifting that goes on every day. Management says they spoke to the guard about whether or not he asked Wooldridge to see what was in her bag. They say he denied doing so.
The questions many people are asking are, can a store deny your right to carry what the store deems as a "big bag or purse?" And, can a store ask to look inside your bag?
"Stores have a right to take reasonable measures to protect their merchandise," said John Myers, Professor of Law at University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law, who has 36 years of teaching experience with expertise in criminal law, criminal procedure and family law. "Especially when they give clear notice of limitations. And, I've looked at the sign that was outside of the store and it seems very clear to me that it says no big bags. They're not permitted to put, [or] required to put dimensions."
Myers also says store security cannot search a bag, but can ask permission to search a bag.
"And, if that permission is freely given that's not a problem," said Myers. "If that security guard went into a bag without permission that would be a battery and they could be sued."
Myers says the Fourth Amendment right to search and seizure is not involved in this case because it is a private security guard and not the police. Myers also says the limitations of bags of certain size "seems to be reasonable giving the prevalence of shoplifting."
As for Wooldridge, she says she has shopped at the store for years with no problem. She says this time she was profiled, which the store denies.
"For them to assume that we go in there to steal, well, they need to do things differently," Wooldridge said.
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