Letters to the Editor

Feedback: To steal or not to steal?

I read the April 20 Whidbey News-Times article by Ms. Stensland about the 100 gallons of city water stolen by Tony Stettler, and I’d like to thank you folks at the Whidbey News-Times for bringing the plight of this poor man to the public’s attention.

I was appalled to read that Mr. Stettler was held for near to an hour by Oak Harbor police on a busy street for committing an offense that would have cost the city a mere 14 cents. Mr. Stettler was quoted in the article describing the blocked lane of travelers on Pioneer Way after officers pulled him over, as well as the unrelenting tide of a “Kafka-esque” police response — and just for 14 cents.

Mr. Stettler, I am on your side, and I’m willing to bet that the officer described in the article as a “stern-faced fellow” probably is as well. Something tells me there’s a better-than-even chance that he was more displeased than you over having to spend an hour dealing with 14 cents’ worth of stolen water. If only he hadn’t taken an oath to uphold city and state laws, even the small ones. And the sergeant in his cruiser? I’d bet a lot more than 14 cents of my money that he would have rather been on patrol, presenting a police presence to anybody who had a darker deed in mind than stealing water. Maybe even taking a drunk driver off the road before he caused a lot more than 14 cents’ worth of property damage or worse — personal injury. But then he probably took the same oath.

Yes sir, you have my sympathy and respect. To go through an ordeal like that and come out the far side still retaining your sense of humor speaks volumes about your character.

I remember a point in my life when, as a boy of 9 years old, I stole a candy bar from the PX on a U.S. Army base near my hometown. My penalty was no less severe than your own. I spent the better part of an hour being verbally pinned to the wall by the largest, toughest, jungle-fatigues-wearing, Colt-.45-carrying chief of security I have ever met. And I found nothing funny about the situation. Maybe the high value of my candy bar (four times as much as your water) made it harder for me to overcome the fact that I had, ultimately, broken the law. If not for the fact that I was nine at the time and you happen to be 57-years-old, I might have mistakenly attributed it to a more firmly established sense of right versus wrong.

Mr. Stettler, I can only hope that the brow-beating you suffered over three Tootsie Roll’s worth of stolen water gives rise to a new era of law enforcement - an era where laws are seen more fluid, and individual accountability, responsibility (or total lack thereof), and humility determine what is and isn’t illegal. And next time your pump goes out, I’ll supply you with all the water you need. Maybe together we can keep one of Oak Harbor’s finest from questioning his profession.

Scott Johnston


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