An unlucky parolee wheeled his shopping cart full of stolen goods into a parking lot where a deputy in his patrol car already had one suspect in the back seat, a prosecutor alleged in court November 12.
John Gabriel Gonzalez, 26, is on parole for a “strike prior.” He has already served time in state prison for six felony counts of robbery; those allegedly happened in early 2016 when Gonzalez was 22.
Eight months ago, in March 2019, Gonzalez finished a four-hour shopping marathon by leaving the Target store in Encinitas without paying for his items. A witness from the store at on El Camino Real south of Leucadia Boulevard said that Target employees tried to help Gonzalez in the self-checkout area, but his credit card or gift card were not accepted by the machines.
Gonzalez proceeded to leave the store anyway, with his cart full of electronics and condoms, according to witnesses at a pre-trial hearing. A scan of the recovered items, later, showed a total value of $971.43 for the merchandise in the cart.
Sheriff’s deputy Ken Coulburn said he was sitting in his patrol car in the parking lot filling out paperwork, and he already had one shoplifting suspect in the back seat. His attention was drawn to a woman who was arguing with someone near the front of the store, the officer described it as a “commotion,” and with an elevated voice the woman said, “There is a sheriff right there!” And she pointed to the deputy in his patrol car.
Deputy Coulburn said he recognized the woman as Maggie, the store loss-prevention officer with whom he had just been working on the shoplifting suspect already in his car.
And then the man walked away from the Target store and his cart; first he approached a car parked near the deputy, and then he went to the deputy’s car. That man, identified as Gonzalez, told the deputy that he tried to make a purchase but his card was declined; Gonzalez wondered if the Target employees really could ban him from ever entering that store again, as the woman had just said.
Officers first ran the name on Gonzalez’ ID card that he handed them, and they found no criminal record. But then officers tried a different last letter on the name, a z for the s, and then they found that Gonzalez was on parole.
In court, the defense attorney said, “This is nothing more than a mistake.” He pointed out that Gonzalez did try to pay for the items, and that he did not try to flee. None of the store’s merchandise was damaged, all items remained in the cart, and the store recovered their goods. And he said of the defendant, “He is in good standing with his parole officer.”
Prosecutor Malak Behrouznami said that Gonzalez had to go through two sets of doors to leave the store, and he became compliant after the officers saw him because, “he knows how this works.” Prosecutor Behrouznami said, “All of his actions were to his benefit.” She noted that Gonzalez has an active misdemeanor case currently in the court system.
Judge Earl Maas advised attorneys to “try to resolve this one,” and ordered Gonzalez back to the San Diego North County Superior Courthouse on November 26, to set a date for felony grand theft trial.