Store owner charged in citizen’s arrest on trial

A thief told a Toronto judge he feared for his life when a shop owner chased him, tied him up and threw him into a van after he stole from a Chinatown grocery store.

TORONTO — A thief told a Toronto judge he feared for his life when a shop owner chased him, tied him up and threw him into a van after he stole from a Chinatown grocery store.

Anthony Bennett, who pleaded guilty last year to running off with $60 worth of flowers from a store owned by David Chen, took the stand Wednesday at Chen’s trial on confinement and assault charges.

“I didn’t know if these guys were going to take me back to the store . . . or what their intentions were,” Bennett testified on the first day of testimony.

“Why couldn’t we just walk back to the store? Why did they put me in the van?” he said.

“I was in fear for my life to be perfectly honest.”

Bennett pleaded guilty in August 2009 to stealing from the store and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. But he says he is a “victim” of Chen’s actions.

The case of the shopkeeper and his two co-accused has captivated Toronto.

The accused have said they were simply making a citizen’s arrest, and Chen’s lawyer says he never should have been charged.

At issue is the fact that Chen did not catch Bennett red-handed, but about an hour after he had shoplifted. The law states you can only make a citizen’s arrest when you catch someone in the act.

Bennett testified that he stole flowers from Chen’s store in May 2009 and then came back later to try and steal more.

A silent surveillance video played in court Wednesday showed Bennett running off after Chen calmly approached him, touched his shoulder and pointed towards his store.

Bennett said he panicked and ran down the alley, and that’s when three men chased him.

“All three of them started duct taping and then started twining my legs up and my hand,” Bennett said, complaining of a thumb injury that he claimed lasted for “months and months.”

“They hit me a few times on the way in while they were trying to subdue me.”

He testified that he didn’t fight back because he was afraid those who tied him up would grow “more violent.”

Bennett identified Chen as the man who caught him, but said the two other men who helped tie him up were not in the courtroom.

He said he “felt rescued” when police arrived a few minutes later, but admitted lying to them about stealing when giving a video statement under oath.

“I was nervous, I was scared, I didn’t know what I was saying,” he said.

Bennett, a man in his 50s with a soft voice, grew loud and annoyed when defence lawyer Peter Lindsay went through his long criminal record, which dates back more than 30 years and includes jail time for theft and drug charges.

“What does this got to do with people tying me up?” he asked Lindsay, saying his past should not be in question because he has done his time. He accused the lawyer of trying to publicly embarrass him.

“It’s plants. I didn’t go rob him with a gun!” he said.

Judge Ramez Khawly calmly intervened several times and ordered Bennett to answer Lindsay’s questions.

“Take a deep breath, you’re a bit of a hothead,” he told Bennett.

Bennett complained that the questions were taking too long to get to the point.

“You’re getting me upset,” he told Lindsay. “I am a victim here.”

The trial was supposed to start Monday, but was delayed because one of Chen’s co-accused didn’t have an accredited Mandarin translator to help him in court.

It continues Thursday when up to six police officers are expected to testify.