Attorneys Joe Paolucci and Thomas Hitchcock were declared persona non grata recently by Wal-Mart – banished from the store for life. Their banishment came after they had proven that they had not shoplifted a package of bic lighters from the store. The gay couple alleges that before the banishment they were subject to abusive homophobic treatment by store employees, who seemed intent on showing that they shoplifted that lighters worth $15.84.
The incident occurred in August when Paolucci — a former general counsel for a real estate company — went with his partner and their adopted twin boys from Romania. The boys are 11 years old with special needs and the men wanted to buy them a reward for being good that day. The couple owns a store in the nearby town.
While Hitchcock bought the groceries, Paolocci made a couple trips to buy additional items — using the self-check out line. After he bought the lighters, he and Hitchcock walked out with their boys when they were stopped by a group of Wal-Mart employees who accused them of shoplifting the lighters. They expected immediate apologies when they showed them the receipt but, they said that the employees began to use vulgar language and yelling at them — causing their boys to start “crying, screaming and freaking out.”
They were told that they would have to go to the “detention room.” Unwilling to go anywhere with these employees, they declined and insisted on speaking to the manager. They say that manager came out, announced that he was the manager, and then promptly walked away.
Notably, when the police arrived, they also reportedly refused to speak with the men. Instead, they cuffed Paolucci and put both men in separate patrol cars. The boys were taken without their consent to the “detention room” and put into the care of the very same Wal-Mart employees.
The Berrien County (MI) Sheriff’s Department allegedly only spoke to the men after reviewing the tapes and concluding that their was no shoplifting. No one apologized to the men. Eventually the twin boys were brought back to their parents.
Now, here is the kicker. When the Wal-Mart employees came back out, they read from a statement that was not an apology but a banishment for life. The public declaration adds a nice medieval touch to the scene. Their status as persona wal-marta non grata was due to their “being uncooperative.”
They were told that if they did not leave the premises immediately, they would be arrested as trespassers.
The men later called police to complain that one of the twins had been injured by employees when they were shoved into the detention room. They wanted their own charges filed against the store, but no such charges have been brought by the police.
The police report says that Paolucci and Hitchcock were “causing a scene, being very loud and disrupting customers while yelling and swearing at Wal-Mart security.” The officers admit that they did threaten to put the boys in custody if they did not quiet down. They also admit that the tapes clearly showed that no crime had been committed.
However, the couple has produced a letter from a law firm representing Wal-Mart where Wal-Mart insists that they are shoplifters and demands $158.40 payment (or will seek legal action). Wal-Mart has long been criticized for abusive and senseless litigation positions, here and here. That is 10 times the value of the items that the police determine never not shoplifted.
Just for the future, this is how banishment are properly done:
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