Store owner fighting tobacco citation

By Darrell Todd Maurina

After a quarter-century of doing business in Clovis, Warren Nuckols Jr. said he has years of experience dealing with shoplifters. According to him, his Quick Stop business on the corner of 13th and Thornton loses $6,000 to $8,000 every year due to shoplifting and burglaries. So when he saw a man in his store who he thought was acting like a shoplifter, he quickly took the money from a young woman trying to buy cigars so he could pay attention to the suspected shoplifter.
Unfortunately for Nuckols, the woman was a minor participating in an undercover tobacco sting operation and the man was an undercover officer observing the purchase.
Nuckols called the June 11 incident a case of “pure entrapment” and plans to take his case to Magistrate Court.
“If you haven’t been a self-employed business owner in a neighborhood like this full of crack houses, you don’t know what it is like,” Nuckols said. “You’ve got to put yourself in the business owner’s position. I’m hoping the judge will see my side of it.”
Nuckols said he believed the operation intentionally tried to distract him so he wouldn’t pay attention to the person trying to buy tobacco, and said witnesses who happened to be in the store would testify to the conduct of the male undercover officer.
“The thing that got me was (my friend) said it looked like (the undercover officer) stuffed something in his pocket,” Nuckols said. “They’ve been stinging on me for four years, and they haven’t ever caught me. I think that would be worth something.”
Nuckols also objected to the timing of the sting, which came after he had posted signs saying the business was closed for the day but before he had shut the door, and said the minor appeared older than her age.
“Most kids, when they come in to buy cigarettes, wear kid’s clothes. She was dressed up, wearing nice clothes, earrings, makeup,” Nuckols said. “They showed me her driver’s license afterward, and it showed she was 17, but she looked 19 or 20 at least. I was so interested in watching the potential shoplifter, but if it hadn’t been for him, I probably would have asked her for an ID.”
Agent D. Ledezma-Pinon of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety said state rules for sting operations bar dressing minors up to appear older than their age.
“Of course we try to make them look their age,” Ledezma-Pinon said. “We don’t dress them up, we just use a basic child who goes to high school.”
“We don’t try to force or coerce,” Ledezma-Pinon said. “If they ask the person straight up ‘How old are you,’ they tell the truth.”
Agent Todd Griffin, public information officer for the department, said that although the Special Investigations Division had received complaints about Nuckols’ business, it hadn’t been targeted for special surveillance and the visit was part of a routine check.
Griffin said he didn’t think Nuckols would succeed in a “not guilty” plea.
“If you have someone in your store that you suspect is shoplifting there is nothing wrong with telling the person in front of you to hold on while you check, or to call the police,” Griffin said. “What we would like is (for clerks) to politely check ID. It takes a little bit of time but in the long run it is worth it.”
Ledezma-Pinon said sales to minors wouldn’t occur if clerks paid more attention to the licenses.
“We teach people in training, if they look at the birth date and it is in red, they were a minor when the drivers license was issued,” Ledezma-Pinon said.
Nuckols said he tried to make a case that Ledezma-Pinon should give him a warning, but wasn’t successful.
“She kept telling me, ‘Tell it to the judge, tell it to the judge, I don’t want to hear it,’” Nuckols said.
Nuckols said he would follow that advice.
“The judge can chew them out for their methods and fine me $1. That’s what judges are for, to listen to both sides and make a fair decision,” Nuckols said.