Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the day “July 17, 2011”

Big Banks Little People Pt. 1

Following on from Roger Ingalls’ impressive story about a man who robbed a bank for $1 and went to jail to receive medical care, I want to share another baffling story of the desperate little man.

The real scene of the crime?

At the end of 2005, Matthew Shinnick sold two mountain bikes on Craigslist. He received a check and walked into deposit it at his local Bank of America. He walked out in handcuffs and spent twelve hours in jail. Ironically, Shinnick became suspicious because the buyer sent him a generous amount above the asking price to cover shipping and time spent sending the bikes off. So before cashing it, he told the teller and asked her to verify if there were enough funds to cover the check. He was told that there were and this was a business account.

A few minutes later, four of SFPD’s finest entered the bank and arrested him. The company had put this account on fraud alert. The policemen moved quickly to neutralize the suspect out of concern for the others in the bank. His legs were kicked apart, his hands cuffed and he was never read his rights. When he asked what was happening a policeman told him not to speak.

Shinnick was then held in the bank for 45 minutes while the policemen interviewed the staff in plain view of his neighbors. Five hours later he was photographed, strip searched, fingerprinted and dressed in an orange jumpsuit.

The Victim



“I was so humiliated, it was beyond belief,” he recalled. “It was an absolute, living nightmare. I felt like I was going to be one of those people who gets caught in the system and has no way of getting out.” (source)

He was then put in a small holding cell with drug dealers and users. There was one bed and one toilet. He stayed in here for several hours until his father came with $4,500 to bail him out.

Twenty-four hours later the district attorney’s office dropped the case, but it took Shinnick almost six months and $14,000 to receive a ruling by the SF Superior Court that he was innocent by “”findings of fact” — a verdict needed to erase all record of the case.

Customer service?

Shinnick asked Bank of America to help affray the legal costs and, while offering sympathy, they refused. The bank also warned that litigation would prove costly and ineffective. A recent Supreme Court decision (Hagberg vs. California Federal Bank, 2004) involved a woman who presented an unusually large check for deposit from her stockbroker. The rest, handcuffs included, is remarkably similar. The judge found for the bank. The only difference, in fact, was that this check was genuine!!!

Could it get any more bizarre. Find out tomorrow… (and if you can’t take the suspense the answer is YES!!!).


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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