A Juneau judge acquitted an unhappy McDonald’s customer accused of criminal mischief Tuesday, finding the state failed to introduce enough evidence to support the charge it levied.
Prosecutors said 19-year-old Tyler John Leatham angrily pushed over and damaged a trash can receptacle in the lobby of the fast food restaurant after he didn’t receive the correct amount of change back for his meal.
Leatham was charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief for intentionally causing damage to property in an amount of $50 or more, but less than $500.
Assistant Attorney General Chris Peloso said the receptacle cost about $940 to replace.
Peloso presented eye witness testimony to the six jurors that were selected early Tuesday morning, as well as a profanity-laced recorded phone interview where Leatham admits to police he became frustrated and overturned the trash can.
The owner of the McDonald’s franchise, William Laliberte, also testified, saying the trash can was damaged to an extent where it had to be replaced in order to maintain required company standards. Laliberte said in his sworn statement he did not obtain an estimate of the damage since he knew it would have to be replaced.
An invoice for the $940 replacement cost was submitted to the court.
But defense attorney Kevin Higgins argued the critical element for valuation under criminal mischief statutes is the amount of damage caused by the defendant, not simply the value of the damaged property.
The amount of damage has to be established through evidence showing either diminution in value or cost of repair, Higgins said.
“Diminution in value is measured by determining the difference between the pre-damage value of the property and the post-damage value of the property,” Higgins wrote in his motion to acquit which he submitted to the court after the state rested its case. “The cost of repair is also an acceptable method of valuing property damage.... Replacement cost is an unacceptable measure of the amount of damage.”
Juneau District Court Judge Keith Levy agreed and concluded the state did not present enough evidence regarding the amount of damage actually caused during the Dec. 20 incident.
“It’s sort of like if you had a 1978 Plymouth that got damaged and the cost to replace it — I think we would know that that would far exceed the current value,” Levy said. “Here, there’s no evidence from which I think a reasonable juror could figure out what the current value of the trash receptacle was before and after the alleged damage.”
“I don’t believe a reasonable juror could conclude that the amount of the damage here exceeded $50,” Levy added.
Leatham and the jury were excused before 1 p.m. and the charge was dropped.
Outside the courtroom, Leatham told the Empire it wasn’t even his money that was in question. Leatham said he and his friend were going through the drive-thru for breakfast around 7 a.m. that morning, and his friend accidently handed the cashier an extra $10 that he thought was a $1 bill.
His friend went inside the restaurant to talk to management, but to no avail. After waiting inside the car for 15 minutes, Leatham said he went inside to see what was going on.
One of the managers told Leatham she was going to call the police, which Leatham said made him frustrated. He pushed the trash can over on the way out of the door, a fact which Higgins told the judge he conceded.
One of the managers wrote down Leatham’s license plate number before he drove away, and she called police.
Leatham was later charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief, a class ‘A’ misdemeanor that can carry up to one year in jail.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.