Johnson: Something's rotten in story of 'stolen' trash
Rocky Mountain News
Bill JohnsonSeptember 5, 2006
I love this tale because somewhere, somehow, someone is flat lying their face off.
The story of Giles Charle and David Siller this week has become something of an Internet sensation, with hundreds of people going on-line to sign a petition seeking their release.
Did two men passing through Steamboat Springs get six months in the Routt County lockup simply because they were hungry, jumped a fence and got caught by the cops standing in a Dumpster with fistfuls of rotting produce in their hands?
Or are they, as the Routt County district attorney lays it out, calculating burglars who'd broken into Sweet Pea Produce on Yampa Street and eaten everything they could find before the law arrived?But then, what of Jonathon Hieb, the co-owner of the Sweet Pea? Back when it all went down, he reportedly told the cops he wanted the two men prosecuted to the fullest, that he even had photographs of them busting into the store.
Yet last Wednesday, after a judge dropped the judicial hammer on the two and the Internet went nuts, he went on TV to say he never wanted them prosecuted at all.
It all started in June. Charle and Siller, passing through Steamboat on their way to the Rainbow Family of Living Light Gathering, a weeks-long, countercultural rally on forest service land in north Routt County, got hungry.
They saw the Sweet Pea Produce store on Yampa Street, eyed the Dumpster out back, and imagined what it might hold.
It is behind a fence. They scaled it. They dove in. They were holding five cucumbers, four or five apricots, two bundles of asparagus spears and a handful of cherries, all of it rotting, when the cops came.
This is, at least, the story they are sticking to.
They were handcuffed and hauled to jail, charged with felony second-degree burglary and misdemeanor theft.Last Wednesday, Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa., and Charle, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., were hauled before a Routt County judge and each pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing, mostly because the last thing any human being wants is a felony rap on his record.
Today, both are finishing up the first week of their half-year jail sentence.
The story of their crime - "stealing" garbage - and their sentence made it onto the Drudge Report on the Internet and into newspapers across the country.
First published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, reaction to the story generated an estimated 32,000 hits after it appeared on Drudge, causing the newspaper's Web site to crash Sunday. The newspaper averages maybe 6,000 hits a day.
It also spurred Richard Myers, a retired Denver factory worker and union activist, to start a "Hunger Is Not A Crime" Web site featuring an on-line petition seeking the two men's release. Hundreds had signed it as of Tuesday afternoon.I called Kerry St. James, the Routt County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the men. I mostly wanted to know how, if their story is true, he manages to sleep these days.
His boss, Bonnie Roesink, the 14th Judicial District district attorney, returned my call. She was eager to talk.
The two, she said, had not only jumped the fence, but they had broken into the Sweet Pea. Prosecutors had pictures, plus handwritten statements from the owners that they wanted them prosecuted to the fullest.
She says the two men were advised by three of the best defense attorneys in Routt County, and that all three told them they were nailed. They should take the best deal they could get.
"We would have certainly dismissed all charges in a second if it was just them stealing trash," she said.
But what of Jonathon Hieb, co-owner of the Sweet Pea, who has been publicly outspoken that he never wanted any charges brought?"
"He's getting heat," Bonnie Roesink said. "People are threatening to boycott his store, and he's trying to back away from it all now."
Jonathon Hieb, 40, also is eager to talk."They're backpedaling hard from this," he says. He and his staff had been at the store all day that day, and immediately rushed down when the cops called, he said. He'd wanted to see if anything was missing - money, property. The officers, he said, were adamant:
Did he want to press charges?
"Hell yes, we were mad," Jonathon Hieb said on Tuesday. "That's all true. I didn't want to be back there that night. In anger, I said to prosecute them to the fullest."
Yet when he and other workers canvassed the store and saw nothing was missing, he says he let Kerry St. James know immediately. "They had just taken the rotted produce we normally give to the pig farmers to feed their pigs," he said.
His mistake, he says, was not letting the cops know. "I figured this would go away, that they would get community service and that would be it. When I heard what those two kids were charged with - felonies! - I figured it was just a squeeze play.
"These kids aren't common criminals. They want to be school teachers and social workers. A felony would ruin all of their ambitions. I figured (the felonies) would never take."
He never thought such a thing would net the two men six months.
Of Bonnie Roesink's assertion that he is backing away to keep from getting boycotted, Jonathon Hieb is adamant. "They're doing a power play on me," he says. "I don't care what they think. I told them back then to talk common sense, that I didn't agree with any of it, that it's not fair."
Yes, he says, the two did trespass and they do need punishment for it. He was thinking a couple of hours of community service, max.
"These kids just made a bad choice."
Did he give Bonnie Roesink photos of the burglary? "That's a (expletive) lie. The cops took pictures, but we had none whatsoever," Jonathon Hieb said. "She's lying through her teeth.
"And she's doing it because she's in so much hot water over this. Now, she's trying to blame me and everyone else."
He admits the past few days have been rough. On Saturday alone, he said, the store received some 200 telephone calls threatening him and his workers.
"They made my manager cry," Jonathon Hieb said. "It was an awful, awful day."
Still, he is persistent. He says he told both Bonnie Roesink and Kerry St. James early on to ease up, to admit their mistake and get the men out of jail so they can get on with their lives."But they will never do it," he said. "Poor kids."
Web, media spring pair of garbage thieves
Rocky Mountain News
September 8, 2006
I never said exactly who was lying - if anyone actually was. It's just that the stories on each side weren't exactly lining up.
It doesn't matter now.Giles Charle and David Siller, the Steamboat Springs garbage thieves, were let out Wednesday evening from the Routt County lockup - only 170 days ahead of time.They said after their release that they knew what they'd done - jumping a fence at Sweet Pea Produce on Yampa Street and swiping rotting apricots, asparagus and assorted other vegetables and fruit - was wrong.
Yet not for a second, they said, did they ever figure a judge would give them six months in jail for doing so.The two men are Internet folk heroes now. Web sites detailed their plight. Hundreds signed online petitions this week seeking their release. Newspapers in the U.S. and overseas have written of them and the apparent inequity of their long sentence.
When the lock turned on Wednesday and Giles Charle, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., and David Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa., were let out, they went, well, nuts, their attorney said.All of Steamboat embraced them, he said. They had become something akin to folk heroes, everyone having heard of them, the two strangers given six months in jail for Dumpster diving, stealing rotting garbage.
What led to their release, it is apparent now, were the howls of protest from across the globe over the sentence.The prosecutor in the case acknowledged as much in a letter to the pair's attorney."As you know," Deputy District Attorney Kerry St. James wrote to attorney Wayne Westphale, "this case has received great media coverage. The bulk of it was one-sided and portrayed this as an instance in which two hungry men removed spoiled food from a Dumpster.
"While my office continues to persist in its contention that this was a burglary case, and that your clients unlawfully entered the interior of the store, we are willing to compromise our position and hope that the message still remains that it is unacceptable to burglarize a local business."He then let the two men walk.
"A self-serving piece of s--- document," Wayne Westphale fumed Thursday morning. "His letter to me was not entirely complete or accurate."It would have never happened, as Kerry St. James acknowledged in his letter, had not the media and the Internet taken up the cause.
"The DA was of a mind-set from the outset to go after these men to fullest, in what everyone else here and, later, everywhere saw as an overly excessive prosecution," Westphale said.Local and state politicians, barraged with calls from angry constituents, in turn berated Routt County DA Bonnie Roesink.
"I called and rode her ass," one elected official told me. "This is the silliest thing I've ever heard."Giles Charle and David Siller were arranging on Thursday to head back east, their attorney said.
They had been making their way to the Rainbow Family of Living Light Gathering, a rally attended by thousands on Forest Service land in northern Routt County, when they stopped in Steamboat and later were arrested.
That was in June. Siller had a job he was supposed to start in July teaching children environmental education, one he is hoping is still waiting for him when he gets home.
Wayne Westphale blames Bonnie Roesink and Kerry St. James for being "overly aggressive, refusing to back off even when the facts became apparent to them early on."In an online chat with the Steamboat Pilot & Today newspaper on Thursday, Giles Charle and David Siller thanked the media and Internet bloggers for highlighting their case.
Never once did they deny in the chat that they made a bad choice by trespassing. They did not criticize their prosecutors either, saying only they failed to see beyond the initial police report."I'll come back to Steamboat," Giles Charle said. "I wasn't feeling too good about being here when I was forced to. But this town has come through huge to help us out and turn around this injustice."
Shaune McCarthy Charle, Giles' mother, called her son's ordeal an "absolutely astonishing thing he has been through. He is a social worker, who I knew would never, ever burglarize anything."I cannot tell you the devastation my heart has been through."She thanked the people of Colorado.
"I know Giles will never forget it."The two praise Jonathon Hieb, co-owner of the Sweet Pea, who for weeks now has loudly protested that the men took only garbage, which he'd planned in any case to haul to the town's local pig farmers.
He was in Grand Junction when I reached him on Thursday."I'm still shocked," Jonathon Hieb said. "I really didn't think they were going to realize their mistake and let those guys out. It's nice to be surprised now and again."
He too was angered by Kerry St. James' letter."He wants to put it all on me and all on the media, not taking a second's worth of responsibility for putting two garbage thieves in jail for six months. It's incredible," he said.
Of Bonnie Roesink, he says: "She let her deputy go crazy!"He drafted a letter Thursday morning to Kerry St. James, he said, thanking him for what he called listening to the people of Steamboat and Routt County.
"I know he's still going to try to bash me," Jonathon Hieb said. "I just figured I'd extend the olive branch. At the end of the day, Kerry has to live with himself. Me, I'm OK. I'm sleeping just fine."Without Jonathon Hieb, everyone agrees Giles Charle and David Siller still would be in jail.
"Shop at the Sweet Pea!" were some of the first words out of Giles Charle's mouth upon being set free."They're not bad kids, and I'm glad for them," Jonathon Hieb said. "And I'll tell you, I feel like a thousand-pound weight has been lifted off of me."Imagine what those two men feel.