Crime, Food, Police

On Remand: Cops, Courts, And Doughnuts

(c) Image by Juri H. Chinchilla.

Yesterday, Krispy Kreme celebrated its 77th birthday. The popular doughnut chain opened its doors on July 13, 1937, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And what goes better with doughnuts than coffee? Cops. This week, On Remand looks back at Krispy Kreme’s history and a half-dozen cases involving doughnuts and cops, including the strange tale of a man who held a Krispy Kreme truck for ransom.

The Krispy Kreme we know today began in the 1930s when New Orleanian Joe LeBeau moved to Kentucky and sold his secret recipe and the name “Krispy Kreme” to a local, who hired his nephew, Vernon Rudolph, to sell the doughnuts door-to-door.  By 1937, Rudolph and a friend had moved to Winston-Salem and opened the first Krispy Kreme doughnut factory. Although the pair set out to sell doughnuts to grocery stores, a new marketing ploy quickly revealed itself:  human weakness.  People passing the factory could not resist the delicious doughnut smell, and wanted to buy them hot off the press.  Vernon obliged, cutting a hole in the outside wall to sell fresh glazed doughnuts directly to people on the street.

Today, Krispy Kreme operates nearly 900 stores in 24 countries. But, like its founders intended, Krispy Kreme continues to sell doughnuts to grocery and convenience stores. Over the years, deliveries to these stores have made Krispy Kreme trucks an easy target for thieves.  One Michigan man may take the cake doughnut for the most comically unsuccessful Krispy Kreme truck theft.

The Curious Case of Thomas Wright

In the early morning hours of August 25, 2003, Clinton Stills, a deliveryman for Krispy Kreme, stopped his truck to deliver doughnuts at a gas station in Plymouth, Michigan. While gathering doughnuts in the back of the truck, Stills felt the truck jerk forward. He leapt out the back, turned, and saw a white male driving away with the Krispy Kreme truck. Stills called the police.

The thief, later identified as Thomas Wright, used the truck’s portable dispatch radio to call Krispy Kreme. Wright told the dispatcher that he would return the truck to Krispy Kreme . . . for a price.

That price? One hundred dollars.

The dispatcher agreed to meet Wright at a gas station in Detroit to recover the truck and the doughnut hostages. But Wright soon grew impatient. He told the dispatcher: “You need to come here right now and bring the money, otherwise I will blow up the truck.” To emphasize his seriousness, Wright repeated the threat in several more calls to the dispatcher, who contacted the police.

Meanwhile, based on the dispatcher’s tip, the police were on their way to the Detroit gas station.  When Wright spotted a police officer, he got into a white pickup and drove away. The officer pursued him and made a traffic stop. As recounted in a 2013 District Court opinion:

When [the officer] walked up to the vehicle, [he] saw numerous bags of Krispy Kreme donuts in the open bed of the truck. . . [and] the [stolen Krispy Kreme truck’s] dispatch radio . . . laying on the seat.

Wright was arrested and convicted of idiocy extortion. For his crime, he was sentenced as a repeat offender to a 10-20 year prison term.  The frosting on the doughnut case? Hoping to escape his sentence, Wright filed six pleadings in three different courts, alleging various errors in the trial court.  The courts found Wright’s legal challenges to be much like the cargo in the Krispy Kreme truck he had stolen: full of holes.

Other Half-Baked Doughnut Truck Heists

The history of stolen Krispy Kreme doughnut trucks does not begin or end with Thomas Wright in Detroit. It may be a national epidemic. In the last dozen years, similar capers have occurred in at least three other states.

In 2002, two thieves drove off with a Krispy Kreme truck that idled outside a convenience store in Slidell, Louisiana. In their haste, the thieves failed to close the truck’s back gate, leaving a trail of delicious doughnuts as they made their escape. The responding police officer dodged a barrage of glazed, powdered, and jelly-filed doughnut missiles as he pursued the pastry perps. The thieves eventually abandoned the truck and fled on foot, leaving behind their precious cargo.  The rescued doughnuts – roughly 12,000 – were donated to the police.

In 2007, police officers in Madison, Wisconsin had to regulate when a man named Warren G. Whitelightning bolted from a grocery store in a Krispy Kreme truck while its driver made a delivery. The hungry dedicated officers pursuing the truck caught the entire chase on their dashcam. And just last year, a Georgia man stole a Krispy Kreme truck parked at an Exxon gas station.

A Sprinkling of Cop-and-Doughnut Cases

Stories of cops chasing doughnut trucks are easy fodder for mockery.  Even better, however, is when a cop walks right into the joke.  Officer Jose Rosa did just that. While responding to an emergency call at a Dunkin’ Donuts in New Jersey, “[his] left foot slipped on a white powdery substance (presumably confectioner’s sugar or flour) on the kitchen floor. . . .” Rather than simply dusting himself off, he sued the store’s owners for their alleged negligence that resulted in his “unspecified injuries.” The case reached New Jersey’s Supreme Court, where the Court affirmed the dismissal of Rosa’s claims:

The accidents and emergencies occasioning the presence of firefighters and police officers are a sad fact of life not soon to be eliminated. They are, however, also the very reason for the existence of the public forces of the “finest” and the “bravest.” . . .  [T]he very nature of the profession . . . embodies risks that the emergencies to which they will respond will neither be conveniently timed nor situated for rescuer, victim, or property-owner – they have assumed (and been trained to handle) those risks.”

While Officer Rosa was deemed to have “assumed the risk” of powdered sugar, it was the risk of delayed powdered sugar that sunk another officer. After leaving his graveyard shift as a Los Angeles airport police officer, Merinio Labio headed for Dough Boy’s Donut Shop.  En route in his marked police car, he passed the scene of a fatal accident without stopping. Five months later he was fired for failing to stop, his “unauthorized detour to a doughnut shop,” and because “his misconduct was reflected badly in the press.” How did the officer get caught? The proprietor of a competing bakery — Lucky’s Donut Shop – tattled when Labio’s supervisor made a (presumably) authorized detour to Lucky’s shortly after the fatal accident.  But because his supervisor failed to give him Miranda warnings during an internal investigation, the court found that Labio’s incriminating statements should have been excluded from the administrative hearing related to his termination.

In 1991, the same year as the Labio case, the stereotype of the doughnut-loving cop was the subject of a lawsuit.  During a heated union negotiation between a Massachusetts town and the police union, a local politician accused officers of spending too much time at the doughnut shop. In response, the union took out a newspaper advertisement, titled “Plymouth Police Department Is Undermanned,” to explain their demands. An unidentified prankster at the newspaper, however, sent the ad to print with a deliberate mistake.  The second “e” in “Department” looked like a doughnut.  The union did not glaze over this joke.  It sued the paper for libel, deceit, negligence, breach of contract, and unfair competition. The jury found for the union and awarded $35,000 in damages. However, the judge reduced the award to $275.05 – the price of the ad plus $1 in nominal damages for “impairment of the union’s bargaining credibility.” Then, on review, the appellate court found a small hole in the lower court’s decision: nominal damages are not appropriate where evidence exists of pecuniary damages. So, roughly eleven years after the prank, the appellate court overturned the union’s award of $1.

Even today, that $1 could buy you a delectable, fat-filled, sugar-crammed doughnut.  Despite the health hazard, doughnuts likely won’t disappear soon.  People, both fictional and real, will do strange things for puffed perfection. Homer Simpson was willing to sell his soul for a doughnut.  George Costanza snacked on a partially eaten eclair he found in the trash. And when most of Boston shut down following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, guess what stayed open by “official request”?  A handful of Dunkin’ Donuts.  According to a Dunkin’ Donuts spokesperson, “At the direction of authorities, select Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in the Boston area are open to take care of needs of law enforcement and first responders.”  It’s a good thing our finest and bravest are prepared to protect the country’s doughnut supply.  As of March 2014, Thomas Wright, the Michigan Krispy Kreme truck thief, was on parole and on the loose. Better lock up your doughnuts.


Samantha Beckett (not her real name) is an attorney with more than ten years of experience working in Biglaw. When not traveling back in time, she is most likely billing it. Her writing has been featured in state and federal courts across the nation and in the inboxes of countless clients, colleagues, and NSA analysts. She can be reached at OnRemand@gmail.com.

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