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Theft of Electrons: Nissan LEAF owner jailed by Sergeant Ford for plugging in his car

A Georgia man was arrested for plugging in his electric car at a public outlet. In this first case of its kind, a precedent for how EV owners are treated may be set. We weigh in on the subject. UPDATED

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Kevin Kamooneh parked his Nissan LEAF at the Chamblee Middle School in the Atlanta area to pick up his son from tennis practice. He plugged his car into a nearby electrical outlet to add some juice and went inside to find his burgeoning Agassi.

About twenty minutes later, he returned to the vehicle to find a police officer waiting. That officer charged Kamooneh with theft of electricity, but allowed him to drive his son and car home. Twenty minutes of charge at 120V, the LEAF owner says, is about five cents worth of power.

Nearly two weeks later, police officers came to Kamooneh's home and arrested him for "theft by taking without consent." Which seems like a dubious title, given that theft is defined as taking something without consent. This is why we have lawyers. Fifteen hours of jail time later, he was released pending a court hearing.

To answer some obvious questions, let's start with why the alleged thief was let go from the scene and then arrested several days later. The policeman on the scene didn't have sufficient evidence to make an arrest. The car being plugged in wasn't enough, he had to determine whether the car was allowed to be plugged in, if the owner had permission, etc. That required an investigation, so the Chamblee Police Department, obviously having a lot of things on its plate (see below), required two weeks to investigate this crime to determine the answers to those questions. Police Sergeant Ernesto Ford told a local news station, WSIA, that they pursued the arrest warrant after an investigation determined that Kamooneh did not have permission from the school to plug into the outlet. "A theft is a theft," he told reporters.

So how much power was stolen? The car was plugged into a standard 120V outlet. According to Georgia Power, at peak hours (which we will assume was used here) electricity costs are about 22 cents per kilowatt hour. The LEAF's battery is 24kW-h and requires about 22 hours to fully charge from a 120V household outlet (3.3kW). That means it charges at a rate of about 1.09 kWh per hour. Of course, it charges faster at lower battery levels, but our simple metric is close. At twenty minutes of plug in (1/3 of one hour), Mr. Kamooneh's car used about 0.363 kWh's of electricity. That's about eight cents. His estimate of five cents is very close. Certainly he used less than a dime's worth.

Putting that together with his legal issues so far, we have him spending time with the initial officer, then getting arrested and being driven to jail, spending half a day (15 hours) in jail, and now having to appear before a judge at least once. Add in the "investigation" time, patrol officer times to write the initial report and arrest and deliver the accused to the jail, etc. and you can see that it's apparent that ten cents stretches a long way nowadays.

Kamooneh says he'll be fighting the charges, but used the questionable "not all takings are theft" explanation to the press. Considering the "theft is theft" by-the-book bullethead argument of Sergeant Ford, the accused thief is playing into the Sergeant's game.

A better argument would be to point out who pays for the power the school receives (taxpayers, ala Mr. Kamooneh), why the outlets are left open and unprotected, whether or not other thefts of electrons, such as airport and train station goers plugging phones and computers into the wall are thieves, and a host of other possibilities. He does point out that none of those types of electron thieves are being prosecuted in Sergeant Ford's jurisdiction.

The judge will ultimately decide the case, but it's likely that Kamooneh, assuming he has no other legal issues with the court, will be let off with time served and a hope that he doesn't sue. I am not a lawyer, of course, so don't take my word for anything here, but I've been on the inside of a courtroom enough times to know how it works. If the judge looks like he's going to get hard-nosed on Kamooneh, he can always break down sobbing with a story about drug addiction to get leniency. Then pick someone random out of the phone book and claim they were his dealer so they can get SWATed. But I digress.

For his part, Ford says he'll keep prosecuting EV owners who steal power. I think we can all feel safer now, knowing that the Sarge is on the job pursuing hard-core criminals in the Atlanta area. Especially given that in 2011, the most recent year statistics are available, we can see that Chamblee, Georgia had two murders, two rapes, 60 robberies, 27 assaults, 80 burglaries, 540 thefts, 57 auto thefts, and a crime rate 135 points higher than the national average.

Or are you thinking that maybe the Chamblee PD needs to rethink some priorities? Silly citizen, a crime is a crime, it doesn't matter who got hurt.

Update: The Chamblee PD have issued an official statement on the goings on here. They say that Mr. Kamooneh was himself the one taking tennis lessons and his son does not attend the school as he does not live in Chamblee, but in nearby Decatur. The arrest was suspended at the incident due to the circumstances and then delayed because Kamooneh lives outside of the Chamblee PD's jurisdiction, so the Sheriff's office had to be involved. Most of the issue, the statement says, was over Kamooneh's actions and argumentative nature rather than the actual electricity theft. You can read the full statement at this link.

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