Macedonia Police baffled by federal law hindering their purse snatching case

Posted at 9:22 PM, Mar 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-31 21:22:43-04

Macedonia Police are currently investigating a simple purse snatching case. However, they said federal privacy laws are hindering their investigation.

According to Macedonia Police, a clause in the federal law prevents them from moving forward with identifying the thief. A clause they say seems to defy common sense.

The incident happened almost two weeks ago on a late Sunday night.

"About 11:30, we had a 77-year-old woman shopping at Walmart 24 hours. It's not uncommon,” said Detective Richard Lea.

The woman left the purse with her husband. After about 15 minutes, a group of three women passed by. One of them then stole the purse.

Macedonia Police said they were able to obtain the government assistance card number she used. However, the state cannot give out her identity because of the federal privacy laws, tied specifically to the government-issued EBT cards.

"We are frustrated. We've tried legal process as a way of getting information we needed and that was denied,” said Detective Lea.

Police said if the thief had used a debit or credit card, this would not have been an issue.

However, for EBT cards, the law states, "if the member is fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, that would be classified as a felony."

Macedonia Police said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services told them that while the woman on this surveillance video did commit a crime, she did not attempt to flee, since police were not at the scene of the crime at the time. Therefore, she is still protected from the privacy law.

"State told us basically even if we were investigating a homicide, they cannot release the information to us,” said Detective Lea.

Cleveland state law professor, Jonathan Witnmer-Rich called it an unusual circumstance.

"In most circumstances, they can get information they want even private information,” said Witnmer-Rich.

Meanwhile, Macedonia police say they are working with the prosecutor and have issued a subpoena and have also reached out to lawmakers to see if there is anything they can do to modify the current federal law in place for future investigations.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services issued a statement on the issue to News 5: 

"As a policy, ODJFS does not comment on pending legal matters. However, generally speaking, both state and federal law prevents the release of information relative to food assistance recipients unless it’s directly related to the administration or enforcement of the food assistance program.”