The two North Carolina police officers thought it was a routine call, yet it ended up affecting them deeply. It all started one day in late 2017 when the officers responded to a report of a theft from a store in Hillsborough, NC. A local woman had allegedly stolen groceries from a supermarket; but what the cops found out about the accused gave them both plenty of food for thought.
The store theft on November 4, 2017, was spotted by staff at the outlet of local grocery chain Food Lion as it was in progress. They watched as the female shoplifter took food off the shelves and then left the supermarket, in the south of Hillsborough, without paying. The manager then gave chase and followed the perp out to the store’s parking lot. And as the alleged thief got into her ride and sped away, the Food Lion boss was able to take a note of the car model and license plate number.
The manager furthermore wasted no time in informing the cops about the theft and the details of the gray Pontiac Vibe getaway car. And with Hillsborough being a small community, there was surely confidence in the notion that the police would pinch the perp. The alleged shoplifter certainly felt that that was the case. Her name is Theresa West, and she reportedly realized that she was in trouble. Speaking later to local newspaper The Herald-Sun, the 44-year-old said, “I knew they had me. I could see ’em taking my tag when I drove off.”
West had allegedly made away with some bread, meat, pasta and sauce and a few salad items to the collective value of about $34. And while it was hardly the crime of the century, nevertheless, the law is the law. The case was therefore assigned to Hillsborough officers Senior Corporal Keith Bradshaw and Officer First-Class Candace Spragins – though the investigation didn’t demand much in the way of work. Thanks to the Food Lion manager’s quick thinking, they had the license number of the alleged shoplifter’s car. So it was easy work for Bradshaw and Spragins to use this to access the owner’s driving license details. This in turn displayed West’s photo, and the officers were able to compare it to the image of the shoplifter caught on the Food Lion’s security cameras. The cops apparently had their woman.
Bradshaw and Spragins hence drove the short distance to West’s house in the southeast of Hillsborough. And while the officers didn’t put on their siren, West nonetheless knew they were coming. In fact, she watched the pair driving down the street in their patrol car. Later, West admitted, “I was so scared. So, scared. I thought I was going to jail. When you get desperate, you get desperate… I panicked.”
West lives just off Route 70 with her nine-year-old boy and 19-year-old daughter. Moreover, at the time, the mom had a couple of extra mouths to feed, having given temporary accommodation to two of her daughter’s friends. West told The Herald-Sun, “I take in wayward kids… but, now I’m disabled.” She explained that she is unable to work owing to rheumatoid arthritis and brain damage, the latter following a head injury sustained in a car crash.
West, then, was terrified when the two police officers knocked on her door. Quoted in the local newspaper article, Spragins recounted, “[West] was crying and upset, and she was just scared.” But although the cops had apparently apprehended their perp, they soon found out something that gave them pause. Spragins continued, “The family hadn’t eaten in three days. They just needed to eat. She just needed to feed her family.”
West’s situation was clearly grim, and it shocked the two officers. You see, Bradshaw had checked the fridge and kitchen shelves to find that, other than the stolen food items, the cupboards were bare. West had in fact been preparing a spaghetti meal with her ill-gotten gains when the officer and his partner arrived at the door.
But although the two cops felt desperately sad about the situation, they still had a job to do. Spragins therefore told West that they had come to arrest her. Consequently, the mom was charged with shoplifting and taken back to the Hillsborough Police Department HQ. Later, she was made to face the local magistrate; however, she wept so much that Spragins had to step in and offer her some tissues.
What’s more, Spragins felt the need to intervene in the hearing again, this time to explain to the magistrate about the sad circumstances that had led to the theft. And upon hearing of West’s plight, the magistrate himself was moved to personally help the accused before him. West later told The Herald-Sun, “The magistrate called his mother! He said, ‘Mama, this girl needs some food. We’re gonna have to hook her up.’”
The magistrate subsequently released the woman with an unsecured bail of $500, while his mother actually made up a care parcel for West and her dependents. Meanwhile, Bradshaw had been reaching out to charities and churches in the local area. That’s how he learned that the local food banks only issue items on certain days – and, unfortunately, this day wasn’t one of them.
As a result, Bradshaw and Spragins decided to take matters into their own hands. The two police officers drove to the local Walmart store with the intention of filling West’s food cupboards and fridge. And what’s more, the compassionate cops ended up spending $140 of their own money on groceries for West and her family.
Spragins said, “We started in the fruits because they’re in the front of the store. After that, we hit the meat aisle along the back. We knew kids were in the house, so – of course – we had to grab a Coke or two and some Sprite. We weren’t sure what they liked. So we figured most people like a dark drink or a light one, so we got some of both.”
In addition, Bradshaw and Spragins bought apples, oranges and bananas from the fruit section and a large sack of potatoes plus some green beans. Next, the officers added some bacon, chicken breasts, hot dogs and pork chops to their trolley. Ultimately, then, the floor of West’s kitchen was completely covered in grocery bags full of goodies.
So when West returned home from her hearing with the magistrate, she was in for quite a shock. Indeed, when the mom saw all of the Walmart bags on the floor, she was completely overcome. She was so touched by the kindness of Bradshaw and Spragins, in fact, that she began to cry as she thanked them over and over. West later said, “It was like an act of God.”
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Andy Simmonds, the Chief of Hillsborough Police, was so pleased with his officers’ work that he posted about it online. Subsequently, the story appeared on the Hillsborough Police Department’s official Facebook page. And since it first went up, the post about Bradshaw and Spragins’ actions has earned thousands of positive reactions. Simmonds said, “We often buy people meals or gas. This is what policing is about in 2017. It has to be about partnership.”
As far as Simmonds is concerned, this kind of kindness and compassion is all part of the job. The post continued, “Sometimes police work is not cut and dry. We are people first and cops second.” And in conclusion, the Facebook entry urged any readers who wanted to help West and her family to try and donate goods or cash to local food banks.
The post picked up lots of media attention, too, and Lieutenant Davis Trimmer, Hillsborough Police Patrol Commander, later spoke to reporters from ABC News. He said, “We had an overwhelming outpouring of offers to help [West as a result of the post], and we are referring all offers to local food banks… [West] has gotten help and will be directed to programs that are local that can assist her in the future.”
Unfortunately, though, West’s tale of woe is not an isolated case. North Carolina is one of the most impoverished parts of the U.S., and things seem to be getting worse. According to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, almost 60,000 individuals a week are given food handouts in this region. And about 50 percent of these food recipients are either senior citizens or children.
At the same time, although West’s tale had an uplifting end in this particular chapter, her story isn’t over. The unemployed mom is still to face criminal charges for her shoplifting episode. West was contrite about her crime, however, and offered an apology. She told the BBC, “I had to go out and steal food, and that’s desperate, and I’m sorry for doing what I did, but my kids were hungry.” In any case, though, Bradshaw and Spragins should be applauded for their generosity in a modern America where sometimes the job of the police is to protect and serve food.