Reality Has No Bite in Tape of Ryder's Alleged Shoplifting
Crime: Security cameras show actress on shopping spree, but fail to live up to the hype.
By ANN W. O'NEILL, Times Staff Writer
It's Winona Ryder's most hotly anticipated film role in years, and all the buzz isn't about "Mr. Deeds," due out in June. Rather, it's Ryder's misdeeds, allegedly caught Dec. 12 by security cameras at a Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue store, that have been the talk of Hollywood for months.
But the store surveillance tape, a copy of which was viewed Monday by The Times, doesn't live up to the hype. For 90 minutes, closed-circuit cameras follow Ryder from Saks' first floor to the third. She tries on several hats, then takes the escalator up to the designer clothing sections, moving from racks of Calvin Klein slip dresses, to Donna Karan, Chanel and Yves St. Laurent on what appears to be a major shopping spree.
Prosecutors have said the tape is damning evidence of a shoplifter, interrupted. Ryder's lawyer, Mark Geragos, said he has found nothing incriminating on the tape.
"Contrary to the public perception, this tape exonerates her," Geragos said. "I'd say this is a prosecution, interrupted."
What becomes clear after viewing the tape is that many of the allegations are based on what store security officers saw and not what was captured on tape.
On Feb. 1, Ryder, 30, was charged with multiple felonies--grand theft, burglary, vandalism and possession of Oxycodone, a powerful prescription pain reliever. At the time, the district attorney's office issued a news release quoting Beverly Hills police saying that Ryder had been seen on the store's closed-circuit camera using scissors to clip off the antitheft devices, and stuffing the items into a shopping bag.
Some entertainment press reports have even indicated that the actress was so intent on removing the antitheft tags from $4,760 worth of pilfered merchandise that she cut herself and left bloodstains in a dressing room.
But the tape shows nothing of the sort.
District attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons backed away Monday from her original Feb. 1 news release, which stated that Ryder had been caught on camera using scissors to cut antitheft tags from clothes.
Gibbons added that police reports she has seen never indicate that Ryder cut herself. Ryder did, however, allegedly damage some merchandise, which led to the vandalism charge, Gibbons said.
While under surveillance by a female loss-prevention officer, Ryder allegedly used scissors twice to snip antitheft tags from several items while inside two dressing rooms, according to a law enforcement source. But the best view offered on tape is a closed dressing room curtain.
"I don't know what you've seen and whether you've seen the entire tape," Gibbons said. "I haven't seen the tape and if there was any error in my press release, you'll have to talk to the Beverly Hills police."
Whatever the camera might have "seen" didn't end up on the tape. There is, however, plenty of footage of Ryder shopping, schlepping and losing her grip on the bags, which fall to the floor as sales staffers walk by. But the scissors never appear, there's no blood and the rest seems open to interpretation.
Ryder wears a long, dark skirt, square-toed boots and a long white coat. She struggles at times, carrying a garment bag, a red Saks bag, a plastic shopping bag and at least three other totes. At one point, she stuffs several pairs of socks into a white hat.
Later, Ryder plunks a black hat on her head and seems to forget about it as she rides an escalator to the second floor. The price tag is clearly visible when she enters a dressing room shortly before 4:30 p.m. When she comes out about 15 minutes later, the tag no longer shows.
An hour later, the hat disappears when Ryder peeks out from behind the curtain of a second dressing room. The tape offers no clue as to where it went, although Ryder is accused of shoplifting two black hats with a combined value of $575. She is also accused of stealing seven pairs of socks, a Yves St. Laurent blouse, several expensive handbags, a pricey hair band and three hairpieces.
At one point, Ryder engages in conversation with a helpful sales clerk, who bustles in and out of the dressing room, finally returning with a credit card receipt. As they walk toward the escalator, the clerk rests her hand on Ryder's shoulder.
Earlier, another helpful clerk brought Ryder a soft drink, and even removed a sales tag from a small item inside one of the bags Ryder toted. The only thing Ryder can be seen stuffing into her bag is the paper wrapper from a straw.
Ryder is free on $20,000 bail as the public awaits the screening of the tape at her preliminary hearing, scheduled for Thursday. The stakes are high for a district attorney's office that in the past has been accused of going easy on celebrities, and for a two-time Oscar nominee who had no film projects on her plate at the time of her arrest.
And so, the spinning has entered a new phase.
Call it Saks, lies and videotape.
As he left the Beverly Hills courthouse Monday, Geragos told reporters that there's nothing on the tape.
"Who are you going to believe?" he said. "The witnesses or your own eyes? Obviously, all of this supposed smoking gun evidence doesn't appear to be there."
"Would Mark Geragos spin? Oh, my goodness," Gibbons said in mock amazement.
The Beverly Hills Saks store had no comment, and referred calls to the corporate office in New York. A spokeswoman there was out of the office until later in the week.
The tape seems to prove one thing: In shopping, as in other pursuits, the famous are different from everyone else. Ryder is never seen in line at a cash register, even though she used her Visa card to charge thousands of dollars worth of merchandise before she was stopped outside the store and accused of shoplifting.