Don't mess with another woman's cell phone.
That's what Novato resident Moriah Stafford learned when she found an iPhone in a shopping cart at a Marin County Kohl's store on Sept. 20.
Stafford took the phone to her son's Petaluma home, thinking he could help her try to contact the owner. Next thing she knew, Sonoma County sheriff's deputies kicked in the door, grabbed the phone and arrested her and her son.
Turns out the super-slick iPhone 4 with its built-in GPS device allowed the owner, Kathleen Wata, to track it to within three feet.
Within hours, Wata's husband led deputies to the I Street home. Deputies knocked. But when no one answered they forced their way in.
Stafford and her son, Stephen Sommers, were sitting on the living room couch, said Sommers' lawyer, Jeff Mitchell.
"I was shocked," said Stafford, a retired cosmetics saleswoman with no criminal record. "I'm putting my hands in the air thinking, &‘Is this the way I'm going to die, Lord?'"
Stafford was charged with possession of stolen property and stealing a phone the owner said was worth $1,000 with accessories and apps. She faced state prison time if convicted.
Her 44-year-old son was arrested on the same charges plus drug possession and a warrant.
Thursday it all came to an end when prosecutors dropped all the charges against Stafford because of insufficient evidence.
Stafford hugged her lawyer, Rebecca Linkous, as prosecutor Brian Staebell announced the decision the morning of her scheduled preliminary hearing.
A judge ruled there were grounds to charge the son with drug possession and obstructing or delaying a police officer. A deputy at his preliminary hearing said he knocked on his doors and windows and entered only after obtaining a warrant to investigate stolen property.
Once inside, deputies found a small quantity of methamphetamine. Sommers had traffic-related warrants from Marin County, Staebell said.
According to a police report, Wata mistakenly left her phone at the Kohl's store in Terra Linda.
It was gone when she returned to get it. She called the number and sent text messages offering a reward. Then she reported it stolen about 1 p.m.
Meanwhile, Stafford said she was shopping for her son when she heard a beeping coming from a mesh pouch in her shopping cart. She reached in and found the phone, she said.
Stafford said she heard the phone ring but didn't know how to answer it. She saw the messages and tried to respond but didn't have the password.
Rather than turning it over to the store, she took it home in the hopes her son could figure it out, she said. Years ago she turned in a lost ring and it was never handed over to the owner, she said.
Once at her son's place, she said he was able to call the owner and leave a message.
"He said, &‘Hi. We have your phone. Here's my number,'" Stafford said. "We waited for them to call us."
Prior to 6 p.m. there was a knock at the door. Her son, whom she said had problems with a neighbor, told her not to answer it, so she didn't. The deputies who had come to the house left.
Just before 10 p.m. there was another knock. Deputies, now armed with a search warrant, came through the kitchen door.