CONWAY — Following a failed motion to dismiss the case, the Conway Police Department is moving forward with the prosecution of a man who is legally blind and accused of concealing items while using the self-checkout kiosk at the North Conway Walmart.
Andrew Airey, 39, is charged with concealing one item per visit while ringing up purchases five times at the Walmart.
Airey, 39, is accused of concealing a frozen pizza, valued at $5.48, on May 4; a package of toothbrushes, valued at $1, on June 9; a can of corned beef, valued at $3.86, on June 13; a bath towel, valued at $7.42, on June 29; and a bag of oyster crackers, valued at $2.74, on July 3, 2018.
Airey’s lawyer, Alfred Catalfo, said Airey is innocent, and blamed Walmart’s self-checkout kiosks, which he said are not user-friendly for blind people and are also the subject of a federal lawsuit in Maryland brought by the National Federation of the Blind.
Airey, 39, is a native of Winchester, Mass., who has called Conway home since 1997. He and his wife Kelli have five daughters, ranging in age from newborn to 15.
Before he became completely blind a decade ago as the result of Stargardt disease, Airey worked for some 17 years in the retail telecommunications industry, both in Rochester and in Conway.
Airey has no criminal record and would like to keep it that way, said Catalfo, which is why his client asked that the charges against him be dismissed, something that Judge Gerard Boyle denied following last Tuesday’s hearing in Conway District Court.
The judge did grant the defense’s other request, which calls upon Conway police to inquire if Walmart has any additional video of Airey that it has not previously produced and if so, to make it available to the defense. Boyle also let the defense obtain the names of Walmart employees in the videos so they can be subpoenaed.
Catalfo said the video would prove Airey’s innocence by showing that Airey’s 7-year old daughter and/or Walmart employees helped him process some of the purchases for which he was later charged and reveals the depths that the store and Conway police are going to convict Airey.
Airey, Catalfo told Boyle, was originally charged last July 3 on just one count of willful concealment, but after Airey’s first attorney notified the retailer that it may be sued over its employees’ actions that day, Walmart went back to its video archives and found the four other alleged instances of the crime.
Airey, after last Tuesday’s hearing, said his arrest has “destroyed” his reputation in Conway and that he is doing all he can do to reclaim it. He said he has vivid, detailed memories of the transactions at Walmart and his recollections differ markedly from the state’s versions of what happened.
Wearing either one of three sets of binocular eyeglasses or his eSight device, which uses a high-speed, high-definition camera to stream video onto two LED screens, Airey said he was very well-known at the Walmart, enjoyed shopping there and considered some employees friends.
Catalfo said the prosecution of Airey is among the most egregious examples of “prosecutorial overreach” in his 28 years of practicing law.
Asked after the hearing whether Airey would accept a negotiated plea, Catalfo replied, “We’re not going to agree to anything that involves conviction. He’s not guilty,” Catalfo said.