A crime that was arguably over-charged in the early pandemic has resulted in a possible 20-year federal sentence for one woman — a steep price to pay for stealing some stuff from a Walgreens, which as we've seen, is a pretty common occurrence.
At issue in the April 2020 theft by Carmelita Barela and Rosetta Shabazz is that the two women coughed in the direction of store employees at Walgreens "near Civic Center" (possibly this one) and claimed to have COVID while they pilfered items and left the store. As SFist noted at the time, they were soon arrested and charged in federal court with "robbery affecting interstate commerce," a crime that comes with far stiffer penalties than merely brazen shoplifting.
The federal charges seemed to come out of a desire to make an example of the case when it comes to the intimidation of essential workers during a pandemic. And Barela was convicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday, and will now face sentencing on August 4.
"The spread of COVID-19 has forced almost all of us to make sacrifices and to rely on each other to maintain our safety and good health," said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds in a statement. "Unfortunately, some people have tried to use the crisis to intimidate essential workers and to commit crimes. This conviction demonstrates that those who seek to exploit the pandemic and commit crimes for their own personal gain will be held accountable."
"The FBI did not stand by while criminals were using the COVID-19 pandemic to threaten and intimidate frontline workers," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair in a statement. "People working in grocery stores and convenience stores were risking going to work so the rest of us could get the food and medicine we needed. The FBI has remained committed to this case to protect the essential workers in our community."
Last year there were multiple high-profile cases of individuals coughing and claiming to have COVID as a means of intimidation in the course of a crime, and it will be interesting to see what sort of sentence Barela receives. It appears that Shabazz, who was allegedly the first to begin coughing during the April 6, 2020 incident, has not yet faced trial.
In another incident that was video-recorded and went viral earlier this year, a young woman who did not have a mask in a San Francisco Uber aggressively coughed on a driver when he tried to make her and her friends get out of his car. That woman, Arna Kimiai, pleaded not guilty in April and she has also yet to be tried.
Barela remains in custody pending sentencing, and she could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine — though it seems like the punishment probably won't be quite that extreme.
Photo: Sachina Hobo