A week after the Seattle Times published footage of Tim Eyman apparently stealing a $70 office chair from the Office Depot in Lacey, WA, the city's prosecutors have charged him with misdemeanor theft.
But in a sworn declaration released by Puget Law Group, a DUI firm in Tacoma who's doing pro bono work on this case, Eyman claims all of this was just one big miscommunication.
Fun fact before we get going here: Eyman has two lawyers on this case, Dan Gerl and Casey Arbenz. According to Arbenz, Gerl was the rush chair for the Delta Tau Delta chapter at Washington State University when Eyman pledged the frat. That's how the two know each other. They're frat bros.
Anyhow, according to the Times, the original story goes like this. Eyman walks into the Office Depot, sees the rolly chair in the vestibule, sits down on it, "reclines, spins around three times and then stands up and wheels the chair out of the store." He then walks back into the store and buys a couple hundred dollars worth of printers. An Office Depot employee quoted in the story says Eyman "acted wary" when the clerk offered to help him carry the load out to his vehicle, and then made him "leave the printers on the ground" next to the truck.
In the declaration, Eyman claims he intended to pay for the chair, but he accidentally didn't communicate that information to the employee. As he was waiting in line to pay for his items, Eyman says he took a phone call from the Institute of Free Speech. The group, Eyman claims, was offering to represent him in his case against the State of Washington.
"As we talked, I went through the process of paying (this weekend I checked it out—my cell phone records show our phone conversation started before and ended after the purchase)," Eyman writes. "As I left the store, I thought all was paid for and was focused on the phenomenal news that I might finally have legal counsel the State couldn’t veto. I was ecstatic."
Let's pause. Eyman has just admitted to two social crimes here: the crime of thinking you can just take something out of a store and then pay for it later, and the crime of talking on the phone while completing a transaction with a cashier. While neither crime is necessarily illegal, the fact that anyone thinks they could do either of those things is wild.
Let's take these issues in order.
You don't just take stuff out of a store and then assume you can pay for it later. Arbenz, one of Eyman's lawyers, told the Times that Eyman "didn’t want anyone else to get the chair" and so wheeled it out before anyone could take it. I'm not a lawyer, but that's still stealing the chair, right? Temporarily stealing, but stealing! If your kid tried to do that, you'd tell him not to because that would be stealing! If he was afraid someone was going to take it, he could have asked any of Office Depot's employees to write a little note that said "sold" or "reserved" on it and then stuck the note to the chair. But he didn't.
Over the phone, Arbenz said Eyman tried but ultimately failed to communicate his intention to buy the chair. "[Eyman] said he signaled to the cashier and said something like 'I got that chair also.' And either that guy didn't hear it, or thought he was talking on the phone," Arbenz said.
Arbenz claims he's seen "half a dozen" similar situations during his decade as an attorney. He says he's had friends and clients call him up and say, "I bought a bunch of stuff, and they didn't charge me for a pair of pants." Arbenz then helps them negotiate with the store to ensure repayment. I cannot imagine a life where you call a lawyer and ask them to help settle a dispute about some possibly lifted slacks with the manager at JCPenney, but I guess this is the life that people with money live.
And while it's difficult for me to believe that someone wouldn't catch the fact they were getting a pretty substantial discount on two printers and an office chair, and while it's also difficult for me to believe that the same person wouldn't make an extra effort to ensure that he had paid for a chair he'd taken against all moral sense, I understand that some kind of mistake like this could happen. In any event, until all the information comes out in court, we'll have to remain neutral on the issue of the theft.
But I cannot at all understand why someone would ever talk on the phone while checking out. Eyman could have just stepped out of the line, or told the Free Speech dweeb he'd call him back. But, again, he didn't.
Arbenz claimed Eyman knew he was in the wrong. "He acknowledges he was being inconsiderate, and it's not how he typically acts as a customer," he said.
It should go without saying, but Eyman is coasting on a tremendous amount of privilege with all of this. If a black guy tried to "save" an office chair in his truck before paying for it, he'd be arrested and thrown in jail. He'd have to pay all kinds of fines, court fees, and attorney's fees, and all of that assumes he'd survive the encounter with the cops. Eyman's dealing with exactly none of this. His former college buddy is banking his chair case, and an ideologically friendly group is picking up his defense against the state, who is suing him for "enriching himself with money donated to initiative campaigns." Granted, Eyman has filed for bankruptcy due to legal fees associated with being in contempt of court. But that financial problem, like this chair problem, is self-inflicted.