Paper or Plastic
Season 4
Number 14
Writer Naren Shankar
Director Kenneth Fink
Original Airdate February 12, 2004
Previous Episode: Suckers
Next Episode: Early Rollout

Paper or Plastic is the fourteenth episode in Season Four of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


The entire team investigates when a robbery at a grocery store turns into a shootout and mass murder, leaving five people dead, one of which is a police officer. The evidence leads Grissom to doubt the story of the other police officer at the scene.


Victims: Clyde Tremmel, Jack Delver, Julia Reed, Officer Clay, Rufus Sanders (all deceased); Celeste Turner, Henry Turner (both alive)

On the case: Entire team

A police car stops in front of the Best Bargain Supermarket. Officer David Fromansky gives rookie Officer Clay a list of items to purchase. As Officer Clay is picking up the last item, he sees the reflection of a masked gunman in the ceiling mirror in the next aisle. The officer is last seen drawing his weapon.

Catherine, Grissom and Warrick meet Brass at the supermarket, where Brass gives a summary of the carnage. There are five victims, four of whom didn't survive—two unidentified gunmen, cocktail waitress Julia Reed, and cab driver Rufus Sanders. Cashier Celeste Turner was shot, as well; however, she survived, and is being wheeled into the ambulance outside. Catherine snaps photos of Julia's body, while Warrick does the same with Rufus. As Grissom talks things over with Brass, he notices blood drops leading under a table. Grissom alerts Brass; when they pull back the cloth, they find a little boy curled up in a ball, shivering, and suffering from a gunshot wound.

Grissom and Brass talk to Officer Fromansky, who is sitting outside in the back of an ambulance; he was hit in the vest with a shot, but is otherwise okay. He recounts the events—while sitting in the police car, he heard gunshots and went inside. As he went to check on his partner, he came under heavy fire. When all was said and done, he had taken down three perpetrators, but is unsure of how many shots he fired in total. As Officer Fromansky walks away, Grissom and Brass are fully aware that they only found two masked gunmen in the store, despite being told that there were three.

Catherine has all of the workers and witnesses gathered in the back of the supermarket. She notices the husband of Julia Reed, and tells the uniformed officer with her that she'll talk to him later. Catherine interrogates the bag boy, who tells her that the gunmen made everyone go to the corner of the store and forced one of the workers, Celeste Turner, to open the registers at gunpoint. While they were grabbing the cash, the cops rolled up. After that, he only remembers flashes and booms while he was huddled down looking at the floor. Catherine wonders why the bag boy keeps looking behind him; the bag boy shows her that he wet his pants during the encounter and wants to change.

Grissom and Warrick look over the body of Officer Clay and surmise that the officer fired his weapon before completely removing it from its holster. While Grissom and Sara are processing different areas of the store, Nick talks to the store manager. The manager tells him that the surveillance tapes only last 24 hours and that, due to budget restraints, they only have cameras focused on the registers and outside of the store. Sara processes the body of Rufus Sanders, which has quarters on the floor around it. Warrick notes that Rufus had just won the $75 jackpot on one of the slot machines and was probably collecting his winnings when the robbery started.

Catherine speaks to one of the cashiers, who says that everyone started running when Officer Fromansky entered the store and started firing at the robbers. The cashier, who was a casual acquaintance of Rufus, saw him get shot and tried to apply pressure to his wound to save him; however, he was bleeding too much for her to stop it. She admits that she couldn't see Officer Fromansky from where she was in the store.

Warrick walks along the back of the store and checks out a bottle of empty drain cleaner with a bullet hole in it. He also observes the bullet holes in the refrigerator glass before meeting up with David Phillips. David is processing the body of Julia Reed, and he notes that there's a bullet entry wound but no exit wound. When Julia's body is flipped over, they find the bullet stuck in the skin on Julia's back. Catherine interviews Julia's husband, Trent, who tells her that Julia's heels prevented her from running. As they tried running along the back of the store, she was gunned down.

Doc Robbins is able to extract the bullet from Julia without the use of tweezers, and he hands it over to Warrick. Meanwhile, Grissom speaks with David in the morgue, where the bodies of Rufus and the two gunmen are laid out. David tells him that Officer Clay's body has been processed and released to his family; he's gotten prints off of the two suspects and removed the bullets from their bodies, as well. Grissom notices prison tattoos on both suspects and notes that this wasn't their first rodeo.

Catherine visits the hospital hoping to talk to Celeste Turner, the cashier. A nurse tells her that Celeste made it out of surgery and she hands Catherine the bullets extracted from her. Catherine asks about the boy Grissom and Brass found earlier, and she's told that the boy is Celeste's son, Henry. Luckily, Henry only suffered minor wounds.

In the A/V lab, Nick shows Catherine security camera footage of the robbery. It's revealed that one of the robbers was behind Celeste the whole time, even when Officer Clay approached her to buy his groceries early on. Catherine asks about the third mystery gunman, but Nick tells her that all of the cars in the parking lot were accounted for and that the loading dock was empty.

There are a total of 18 bullets and 72 pellets that need to be processed. While Sara assists with that, Warrick reconstructs the crime scene via computer. Bobby Dawson interrupts him with some troubling news—there's no third gunman and the bullet that killed Julia Reed came from Officer Fromansky's gun. Grissom and Brass talk to the officer, who is still insistent that he shot a third suspect. Grissom points out that Julia was wearing black like the robbers and was carrying a purse that could've been mistaken for a gun. Officer Fromansky continues to maintain his innocence despite being told that his bullet was dug out of Julia.

At the hospital, Catherine speaks to a now lucid Celeste, who says that she wanted to warn Officer Clay about the gunman, but couldn't. She tells Catherine that she's not allowed to bring her son to work; however, her ex-boyfriend dropped him off unexpectedly. She hid Henry in the manager's office, but couldn't find him when the gunfire started. When the shots started ringing out, she ran to the office, but was unable to find her son. She was shot as she was running from the office looking for him.

Nick has two lab techs count all of the money that was found on the robbers. He then shows Catherine that when a cash register reaches a preset amount, a light (or "halo") goes off, letting the manager know it's time to transfer the cash to the safe. However, the security footage shows most of the halos lit, showing that the robbers knew the exact time to rob the store.

Grissom has the crime scene photos laid out on a table as Doc Robbins recaps the causes of death for all victims. Catherine looks closely at the photo of Julia Reed's body and is perplexed. She speaks with Trent Reed again in order to clarify his story. He had said his wife had fallen forward while they were running; however, there were no scrapes or bruises on her elbows or knees. When pressed further by Catherine, he soon admits that Julia was running along the back of the store when she froze up, unable to move. She became a stationary target for the robbers.

Grissom meets up with Warrick and looks at the digital reconstruction of the crime scene. They find that Officer Fromansky was telling the truth, as he had fired four shots at the back of the store. Officer Fromansky is seen talking to Internal Affairs with Grissom and Brass watching from the outside. Despite the report that says he had an unobstructed view of the back of the store, he can't explain why he didn't see Julia Reed or why she was shot. However, he doesn't deny that his bullet killed Julia. Internal Affairs asks Officer Fromansky if he made a mistake, a question the officer can't answer. From behind the glass, Brass points out that there's no correct answer the officer can give. Grissom wonders if Officer Fromansky really doesn't know what happened.

Grissom and Warrick go back to the store and recreate the crime scene using mannequins and lasers. Grissom finds that the cracks from one of the bullet holes in the refrigerator glass terminated when it came in contact with another bullet hole. Thus, their sequence is out of order. It seems that Officer Fromansky was shooting from left to right at a moving target, not right to left. They look around and find that the exit door was in that direction, and the door leads to the loading dock. Warrick tells Grissom that the security camera out there didn't pick anything up before, during, or after the robbery; however, Grissom wonders if that isn't the whole story. Inside, Grissom watches the security footage while Warrick stands in the loading dock. Warrick takes some steps to his left until he's out of the frame. There, he finds paint transfer on a wall and skid marks indicating a getaway.

Warrick relays this information to Catherine and Nick, noting that both the paint transfer and skid marks were recent. The robbers definitely had a wheelman. It appears that the robbers also knew of the blind spot in the loading dock, leading Catherine to guess that the whole thing was an inside job. Nick agrees, saying that, when all of the money from the registers was counted up and matched against the receipts, there was $878 missing. He offers to check out the employees to see if any of them have a record.

David Hodges runs the paint chips and discovers that they came from an Aegean blue Honda Accord made between 1984 and 1987. Officers are able to locate the car, which Brass tells Warrick was reported stolen three weeks before. Warrick tests the front passenger's seat, and it comes back positive for an acid, which he guesses is sodium hydroxide from the empty bottle of drain cleaner he found in the store earlier. He's also able to lift a print from the car's busted ignition lock. Meanwhile, Brass finds a cell phone in the back seat; its call history has the same number listed three times. Brass calls the number listed and discovers that it's the number for the supermarket. Someone at the store was eager to talk to the robbers.

The print on the ignition lock belongs to Todd Hallickey. Todd, who is out on parole, is brought in for questioning, where he tells Brass that he doesn't steal cars anymore. His story is that he was looking to buy a car and test drove the blue Honda Accord in question. Brass notices chemical burns on Todd's hands and figures they came from the drain cleaner. Meanwhile, Warrick looks over the clothes confiscated from Todd's apartment and finds a bullet hole in a jacket that tests positive for lead. All of this puts Todd at the scene.

Catherine, Grissom and Warrick sit in the break room recapping the case. Warrick says that Todd had no connection to the grocery store, but he's looking at four counts of felony murder just for being the wheelman. Grissom points out that a bullet hole in a jacket isn't even enough to place Todd in the store. The missing $878 wasn't found in Todd's apartment, either. Grissom wonders about the calls from the cell phone to the store, but Warrick tells him that the store runs off of a system where every call goes to the same number. In other words, any employee could've been on the other end of the call. Nick enters and says that one of the employees, Raul Valdez, had a criminal record. He also clocked into work on the day of the robbery, but he never clocked out. Catherine remarks that nobody by the name of Raul Valdez was interviewed at the scene. Nick adds that Raul had served time in the same prison the robbers did.

Catherine goes back to the store and walks along the back of it while looking at a crime scene photo of the bag of money. She finds the spot where the bag boy soiled himself, then looks at the display of cereal boxes. One of the boxes is turned on its side; when she looks inside this box, she discovers the missing money. Catherine interrogates the bag boy, and he admits to hiding the money in the box. He figured he earned the money due to his meager pay and dealing with the pain and suffering of the robbery. Catherine accuses him of setting up the robbery, but he vehemently denies this, only admitting to hiding the money.

Grissom looks at the bullet pulled from Julia Reed under a microscope. He finds polyester attached to the bullet; Warrick tells him that Julia was only wearing a wool sweater. However, the jacket taken from Todd Hallickey's apartment was polyester. Grissom notes that Officer Fromansky was tunnel-visioned on the gunman and that he never saw Julia. A flashback shows Officer Fromansky firing from left to right at the gunman (Todd). Todd ran in front of Julia, who was standing frozen against the refrigerator glass. One bullet went through his jacket and hit Julia, who Officer Fromansky never saw standing there.

Nick shows Catherine security footage from the loading dock, where he finds that someone manually moved the camera two nights before, creating a blind spot. The print on the camera belongs to Celeste Turner, and it's revealed that she orchestrated the robbery. In interrogation, Brass surmises that she asked Raul Valdez, an ex-con, for some names of people who could pull off the job. She provided the robbers with the perfect time to strike, and even told them where to park. However, she tried to call it off when her ex dropped her son off at the store; the robbers ignored her calls. Celeste says that she had worked at the store for five years, but her manager wouldn't give her enough hours for her to qualify for benefits. She admits that nobody was supposed to get hurt.

Officer Fromansky is shown getting a commendation from the mayor's office, and Brass asks Grissom what he thinks about that. His response: "Two dead felons, two dead civilians, and a dead police officer...I don't know what to think."


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]


  • When Grissom is starting to take pictures of the first dead robber, you can see his eye flinch when the flash goes off
  • When Sara is measuring the blood, the second dead robber's eye twitches slightly.


  • Despite appearing in the opening credits, Eric Szmanda (Greg) does not appear in the episode.
  • The friction between Grissom and Officer Fromansky comes to a head again. It started in the episode All For Our Country.
  • Warrick relates the story of the MGM Grand fire to Sara, noting that patrons were found fused to the seats in front of their slot machines instead of running out of the casino. Grissom mentioned the same story in the episode Lucky Strike; however, both times, there has been no substantiating real-life evidence to back up their stories.
  • This is the second and last appearance of David Andrews, who plays Officer Fromansky.


  • T.J. Thyne, who plays a bag boy at the store that was robbed, also appeared on the CSI:NY episode Tri-Borough (Season One). He also played entomologist Dr. Jack Hodgins on Bones.
  • Michael Landes, who plays Trent Reed in the episode, also appears in the Season Fifteen episode Girls Gone Wilder playing a different character.

See Also[]

CSI:Las Vegas Season 4
Assume NothingAll For Our CountryHomebodiesFeeling the HeatFur and LoathingJackpotInvisible EvidenceAfter the ShowGrissom Versus the VolcanoComing of RageEleven Angry JurorsButterfliedSuckersPaper or PlasticEarly RolloutGetting OffXXBad To The BoneBad WordsDead RingerTurn of the ScrewsNo More BetsBloodlines