CONWAY — Walmart’s self-checkout terminals are unfriendly to the disabled, Andrew Airey, a blind husband and father of four, told a judge on Tuesday, and those terminals, not criminal intent, he said, led to his being tried on multiple counts of willful concealment for items totaling less than $21.
Andrew Airey, 39, is charged with concealing one item per visit while ringing up purchases five times at the Walmart.
Airey, 39, who became completely blind a decade ago as the result of Stargardt disease, also known as Juvenile Macular Degeneration, appeared before Judge Michael Garner in Conway District Court for his one-day bench trial on misdemeanor charges that allege that on five occasions in 2018 Airey failed to scan items at the Walmart in North Conway.
The items were a frozen pizza, valued at $5.48; a package of toothbrushes, $1; a can of corned beef, $3.86; a bath towel, $7.42; and a bag of oyster crackers, valued at $2.74.
It was that last item, which Airey is accused of concealing on July 3, 2018, that led Walmart to check its surveillance video and to find four other instances between May 4 and June 28, 2018, in which he allegedly concealed the other items.
Under questioning by Sgt. William Strong, who is the Conway Police Department prosecutor, Matthew Colella, who has worked in asset protection at the North Conway Walmart for more than 11 years, said Airey drew his attention that July 3 because he was seemingly bagging some items without scanning them, Colella said.
Colella confronted Airey outside the Walmart and, after cross-checking the items Airey had in his cart against the two receipts that Airey had for them, determined that 37 items, valued at almost $148, seemingly had not been scanned or paid for, Colella said.
Later, upon questioning by the defense as to why Airey wasn’t charged with multiple counts of willful concealment on that occasion and the other four, Strong said his office, at its discretion, chose to charge Airey with just one single count of willful concealment per incident.
Searching Walmart records for previous times that Airey had used his debit card, Colella said he found four more instances in which the video led him to believe Airey “was not scanning all the merchandise.”
Attorneys Stuart Dedopoulos and Alfred Catalfo are representing Airey. In Dedopoulos’ cross examination of Colella, Dedopoulos donned a pair of the kind of binocular glasses that Airey had worn to the Walmart on the day he was arrested. Dedopoulos asked whether Colella thought they indicated Airey had a significant visual impairment.
Colella replied that Airey in the July 3, 2018, video appeared to be able to use the self-checkout without much difficulty, telling Dedopoulos that the self-checkouts then, unlike now, did not have a means by which to notify customers of a mis-scan.
When Airey took the stand, he pointed out that, until his arrest, he had shopped at the North Conway Walmart for 19 years, sometimes as often as three times a week.
On many of those shopping trips, either one of his daughters or some combination of them and Walmart employees, said Airey, had helped him use the self-checkout. He said he used the self-checkout reluctantly, however, because, depending on when he went shopping, there were either no manned registers or there were lines that were “out to the corner.”
While he has heard the audible note that signals an item has been successfully scanned, Airey said he had not seen the green or red lights that mark the start and end of the process.
Airey said he did not intentionally or knowingly take items from Walmart without paying for them.
In his summation, Strong said videos show that Airey on those five dates deliberately did not scan some items and that, cumulatively, there were “far too many mis-scans,” which led to the criminal charges against him.