BAKER — Days after Baker’s City Council President John Givens was accused of trying to steal a 50-cent pastry from Ragusa’s Meat Market, the councilman surrendered to police Thursday while sales of the sweet treat have exploded, with customers dubbing them “Givens Pies.”
Givens, 65, now faces a possible felony charge of abuse of office and theft in a case that’s baffled city officials, bemused some residents and has the store manager now trying to make the matter go away.
The incident began shortly after noon Tuesday, when Givens entered the Groom Road store and picked up meat and bread, as well as a Little Debbie banana-flavored Marshmallow Pie.
Store manager Abdallah Mizeyd said Thursday that he was at the counter when Givens opened the pie’s wrapper feet away from him, eating the pastry — a marshmallow layer between two crunchy cookies covered in a layer of artificial banana-flavored icing — and placing the wrapper in his front left pocket.
Givens placed the meat and bread on the counter, but not the wrapper for the pie.
Mizeyd said he told the councilman: “Would you like to pay for whatever you have in your pocket?”
Then, Mizeyd said, Givens pulled out an ID badge, held it up to Mizeyd and said, “You must not know who I am.”
When Mizeyd called police, Givens changed course and tried to pay but Mizeyd said, “It’s too late now.”
While they waited, Givens said he was in control of whether Mizeyd stays in business, according to the arrest warrant. When an officer arrived, Givens tried to defuse the situation by making a call on his phone and then handing his phone to the officer, Mizeyd said.
The encounter was caught on the store’s surveillance footage, according to the arrest warrant.
Givens also waved a $20 bill and insisted he tried to pay, store patron Teddy Thomas said Thursday. Thomas, who was at the scene, said he often drops by on his lunch break.
Givens was allowed to leave the store while Mizeyd decided whether to press charges — and he called police Tuesday evening to tell them to go ahead, Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said.
Givens, 4503 Fausse Drive, surrendered Thursday morning and was booked into Parish Prison on counts of theft of goods and abuse of office.
But Mizeyd said Thursday that he has since asked Baker Police for any charges against Givens to be dropped. District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office is still reviewing the case.
“There’s certainly no excuse for what was done,” said Pete Heine, a Baker City Councilman and a former longtime Baker mayor. “I really do feel sorry for him.”
Heine was the councilman who nominated Givens, who’s serving his third year in office, for president of the council. It’s a largely ceremonial post, serving as a council spokesman of sorts, along with moderating the meetings.
The five-member council is scheduled to meet Tuesday. “It’s certainly uncomfortable,” Heine said.
“I just don’t know what would possess a person to do something like that,” Heine added. “It damages the credibility of our city, and that’s what bothers me.”
The city of about 14,000 has faced some economic hurdles.
Givens and other members of the council could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“It’s in legal hands now,” said Baker Mayor Harold Rideau, who declined to comment further.
Some of the store’s patrons were baffled by the incident. Thomas said he had never heard of the councilman but when someone told him, he burst out laughing.
Baker resident Lachella Williams also was baffled.
“I just can’t believe he did that,” Williams said outside Ragusa’s on Thursday. “It don’t matter who you are, you don’t put your hands on stuff that don’t belong to you.”
Meanwhile, Mizeyd said sales of “Givens Pies” have taken off. As of Thursday, the store was out of them. Mizeyd has no plans to up his order volume.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.