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Theft, Interrupted?

updated 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

Actress Winona Ryder had an audience and didn't know it. As she made her way through Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills on Dec. 12, security guards, and remote cameras, began paying attention. At one point, authorities say, the actress pulled out scissors and pried security sensors off several items—including, according to a Saks staffer, a Judith Leiber handbag worth more than $1,000—then put them into a shopping bag she had brought with her.

When Ryder left the store, reality bit. Security officers stopped her on the sidewalk and called police, who arrested her for allegedly pilfering $4,760 worth of merchandise and possessing painkilling drugs—believed to be Demerol, Percocet and Vicodin, all addictive narcotics—without a prescription. Beverly Hills Police Lt. Gary Gilmond says Ryder, 30, was "polite and cooperative" throughout the four hours she spent in custody until her lawyer Mark Geragos posted her $20,000 bail just before midnight.

While Ryder awaits a scheduled Jan. 11 arraignment, Geragos maintains the incident was a "misunderstanding" and is working to avoid any formal charges. He says Ryder has "receipts for all the items...she paid in different departments," and has prescriptions for the painkillers. As for the removal of the security tags, "There's a complete explanation for that," Geragos says cryptically. "It will be provided."

Whatever the final outcome, Ryder's arrest is only the latest event in a life that has rarely lacked for drama. Born Winona Horowitz in Winona, Minn., the goddaughter of LSD guru Timothy Leary once stole a comic book as a teenager living in Petaluma, Calif. "The police brought me home, and my parents tried to beat them up," she told Buzz magazine in 1997. At age 20, Ryder checked herself into a psychiatric hospital for a few days for depression and anxiety after her star-making turn in the 1989 cult hit Heathers. Well known for her relationships (she has dated Johnny Depp, rocker Dave Pirner and Matt Damon) as well as her performances, Ryder was nominated for Oscars for 1993's The Age of Innocence and 1994's Little Women. Without a hit since 1999's Girl, Interrupted, she has had her woes lately: Last summer she fractured her arm while filming Mr. Deeds. In June she alarmed some onlookers with a rambling speech at a New York City benefit after partying with Courtney Love. In August a stomach illness forced her to drop out of the drama Lily and the Secret Planting. But despite her new trouble, Ryder—whose recent beaux have included rocker Pete Yorn—"is doing fine," says a close associate. "She hopes this is all I going to be resolved."

Samantha Miller
Frank Swertlow, Michael Fleeman and Julie Jordan in Los Angeles and Rachel Felder in New York City

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