For about 15 years, since we moved into our Ingleside home in San Francisco, my family and I have been patronizing our neighborhood Walgreens Drug Store. It is where we obtain our prescription drugs, where we have our photos developed and where we buy just about anything that we can’t get at Costco or Albertson’s.
On the early evening of President’s Day, Feb. 17, I went to Walgreens to buy some cough medicine, Claritin and a few toiletries. I brought my goods to the counter and the young Latina cashier tallied my goods. After she said the total was $42.62, I reached into my wallet, took out a one hundred dollar bill and handed it to her.
The 21-year-old cashier examined my bill, took out her counterfeit detector pen and marked it. The coloring result indicated that it was genuine. But she wasn’t satisfied, so she lifted the bill up to the light to look for the telltale watermark image of Benjamin Franklin. When she couldn’t see it in my bill, she picked up the phone and asked the assistant manager to come to the counter.
Dennis Snopikov, 24, came over and examined my bill. He looked at me and then took my bill to his office at the back of the store. When he didn’t come back right away, I offered to pay for my goods with another bill, as the customers behind me were getting impatient. The cashier took my new bill, examined it and accepted it.
With my goods in hand, all paid for, I went to the back of the store to wait for Mr. Snopikov. When he emerged about five minutes later, he told me that although my bill passed the counterfeit detector pen test, which he applied again, it did not have a watermark image and it also lacked a magnetic strip. He said he compared it with another bill from the same year and it was clear to him that my bill was counterfeit. He then asked me where I got it. I told him that I am an attorney with a law office just down the block and that I must have gotten the bill from a client.
The next thing I knew, four SFPD police officers had arrived at the scene. Two of the younger ones, a white female (Lindicoet) and a Vietnamese male (Nguyen), both in their 20s, approached me.
After she checked my identification cards, Officer Lindicoet said: “We know who you are, Mr. Rodis.”
She then examined the one hundred dollar bill and said, “An attorney like you should know better than to pass out a counterfeit hundred dollar bill.”
I was shocked by her comment. “But it passed the counterfeit detector pen test [twice] so how could I tell if it was counterfeit?” I replied.
Officer Lindicoet then looked at me and said: “Put your hands behind your back.”
I could not believe it. “Is this really necessary, Officer?” I asked.
I just could not believe that I would be arrested, for the first time in my life, for something like that. If the bill was counterfeit, I certainly didn’t know it was. Officer Lindicoet then applied tight handcuffs on my wrists behind my back and led me out of the store to her patrol car. It was the most humiliating experience of my life, as a crowd of neighborhood people, many of whom knew me, saw me being paraded out of the store in handcuffs, like a common criminal.
When we got to the rear of the police station, I was taken to a small empty room where I was handcuffed to a metal rail in the cold bench.
My wife was shocked to receive a call from a police officer informing her that her husband had been arrested. “No, ma’am, it’s useless for you to come to the station. Just wait until we bring him downtown, then you can see him there and bail him out,” the officer told her.
After what seemed like hours of staring at the walls, I saw the two arresting officers come over to me, and one of them unlocked the handcuff from the rail. “This is it,” I thought, “they’re going to take me downtown and book me.”
But the Vietnamese officer said, “I knew it all along. I told them it was real.”
Officer Lindicoet then explained that they had spoken with the Secret Service agent, who told them my bill was real. The magnetic strip and the watermark image didn’t come in until the 1990 edition. My 1985 bill (with James Baker III as Secretary of the Treasury) didn’t have them.
The officers apologized for their mistake and offered to take me back to Walgreens. I rode with them in total silence, seething with anger and rage at the humiliation they had subjected me to.
“Would they have done this to me if I was Gavin Newsom or Tony Hall?” I thought.
There is not a doubt in my mind that if the officers had come to Walgreens and saw that it was Supervisor Gavin Newsom with the “counterfeit” bill, they would have treated him quite differently. At the most, they would have reminded him to be more careful next time about what money he uses to pay for his goods. Not in a million years would they have ever considered putting him in handcuffs.
Why was I arrested? I believe it was because I fit their subconscious racial profile of one who would likely be passing around counterfeit money. In the officer’s subconsciously racist mind, Filipinos and other minorities are prone to commit these kinds of crimes, while respectable white officials would never do this.
On Friday, Feb. 21, I filed a claim against the City and County of San Francisco, the prerequisite to filing suit. I want the San Francisco Police Department to train its officers properly so that what happened to me will never happen to anyone else again. This week I will file suit against Walgreens for damages. My wife is adamant that no one from our family will ever go there again.