When Lonnie and Karen Boozer brought their family from Idaho Falls to Disneyland, they expected their 5-year-old daughter to ride some rides, eat some frozen bananas and shake hands with Mickey Mouse.
They did not expect her to end up in therapy.
But their trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” took an unpleasant detour, the Boozers say, when the entire family was accused of shoplifting a $2.50 piggy bank, detained, interrogated and searched. They were released in time for daughters Lyndsey, 5, and Melissa, 2, to see a parade of costumed Disney characters get off work and march down a back street carrying their heads in their hands.
The experience last October drove daughter Lyndsey to a therapist’s couch, maintains Karen Boozer. And on Friday the couple filed a $1-million lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, accusing the Walt Disney Co. of false arrest and false imprisonment.
“Disneyland has taken great pains to make sure safety and decorum is preserved so the whole world knows what a wonderful place Disneyland is. But this time they crossed the line,” said Beverly Hills attorney Neil Newson.
Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth acknowledged “some sort of incident involving the Boozer family.” He would not discuss the incident or the lawsuit.
It began, according to the lawsuit and interviews with the Boozers, when Lyndsey, then 4, colored about 100 weather maps for a chance to win a trip to the Magic Kingdom offered by a television station in Pocatello. She took first prize and spent the next nine months writing letters to alert Mickey Mouse of her impending visit.
Once inside the park, the children spent an hour hugging and shaking hands with Winnie the Pooh, Scrooge McDuck and other characters.
The family stopped at the Space Trader gift shop to buy Mickey and Minnie Mouse souvenir piggy banks. Melissa cried when her mother tried to take one of the banks away and the cashier rang it up without bagging it, according to the lawsuit.
An unidentified security guard apparently thought the bank was stolen and flashed his badge outside the gift shop.
“Your little girl in the stroller has removed an item from the store without paying for it. That makes her a shoplifter,” Karen Boozer, hairdresser, quoted the guard as saying.
The family offered their receipt but the guard refused to look, according to the lawsuit. He announced that Karen Boozer was an accessory to her daughter’s crime and advised the family to “stop making a scene,” the Boozers alleged.
They were then escorted “like a bunch of common criminals” to the Disneyland security office where they waived their receipt futilely, the Boozers said. When the parents were told to step in the back for questioning, they refused to leave their daughters alone.
“You should have thought of that before,” the security officer said, according to the mother.
Karen Boozer volunteered to step in the back if her husband, a factory mechanic, could stay with the children. About 2 1/2 hours later, a supervisor examined the receipt and discovered that the family had not only paid for the banks, but had been overcharged $3, according to the lawsuit.
Nevertheless, security officials searched the family’s backpack and found a roll of film and a bag of Melissa’s dried fruit and nut snacks, according to the lawsuit.
“Are you aware that you are not allowed to bring any food into the park with you?” the supervisor said, and asked to see the receipt for the film, according to the couple.
Karen Boozer said she sat down and cried. The security officer told her to calm down. That’s when, she said, she looked up and saw, to her horror, the Disney characters her daughters had played with just hours before, walking down a back alley with their costume heads in their hands.
“Lyndsey Boozer was shocked to see that her favorite characters (with) whom she was hugging and shaking hands minutes before had lost their heads in the meantime,” the lawsuit alleged.
A park supervisor refunded the family’s admission price and stroller rental and arranged for the family to ride back to their hotel in a Cadillac, the Boozers said.
Back in Idaho, the Boozers threw away all their Disney toys and videos, which the children were throwing at the walls, she said. Lyndsey became depressed and withdrawn, refusing to get out of bed or dress herself, and underwent three months of therapy, her mother said.