Alleged Shoplifter Dies After Struggle With Security and Staff At Georgia Walmart

In torts class, we often discuss the limitations placed on the protection of property under the common law. While many states have passed controversial Castle Doctrines or “Make My Day” laws and others have extended such privilege to use lethal force to cars or workplaces (under Make My Day Better laws), the common law does not allow people to use force calculated to cause serious bodily injury or death in defense of property. Many stores instruct employees not to use physical force with shoplifters for that reason or to try to stop armed robberies (including cases where stores have fired such heroes). It appears that a security officer is out of job after a scuffle with an alleged shoplifter caused the middle-aged suspect to have a heart attack and die outside of a Walmart.

Walmart employees and a security guard confronted the man in the store parking lot who reportedly shoplifted two DVD players. When the police arrived in Dekalb County, Georgia, they found the man was unresponsive and bleeding from the nose and mouth.

One of the employees had reportedly placed the man in a choke hold.

Walmart appears to have fired the security officer and put two employees on paid leave. Dianna Gee, a Walmart spokeswoman, said “[n]o amount of merchandise is worth someone’s life. Associates are trained to disengage from situations that would put themselves or others at risk.”

That is the view of the common law. However, the common law allows one to grab someone stealing property and try to retrieve it. If the person then resists, the case can change from defense of property to defense of self. Self-defense and defense of others have far greater ranges in the level of permissible violence. Indeed, you can use lethal force if you reasonably fear for your life. In this case, the employees could argue that they use commensurate levels of force not in the protection of property but in the protection of themselves or others.

With the level of violence or insanity during Black Friday sales, it is surprising that more such incidents do not occur. However, it is usually the customer-on-customer violence that makes the annual event so repulsive for many citizens.

It will be interesting to see if the man’s family sues despite the report that he was found with the stolen items. For Walmart, the cost of such litigation is too costly in comparison to the merchandise. This is why “strike suits” are so successful where companies settle for a few thousand dollars rather than incur litigation costs. Walmart would prefer to avoid such costs even in the face of blatant shoplifting as a cost of doing business.

Source: NBC

79 thoughts on “Alleged Shoplifter Dies After Struggle With Security and Staff At Georgia Walmart”

  1. I was taught grammar.

    “You” is the pronoun for others directly addressed in the first person as they are the subject of address or the object of the sentence. Subject pronouns are used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence. I, you, he, she, it, we, and they are subject pronouns. Subject pronouns are also used if they rename the subject. They follow to be verbs such as is, are, was, were, am, and will be. Object pronouns are used everywhere else (direct object, indirect object, object of the preposition). Object pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, and them.

    If that presents a problem for you or anyone else, I’m fairly sure there is no English Language Complaint Department or English/American version of the L’Académie Française. If there is? You can take it up with them, but this is a fine example of why I’m not a fan of either PC or Rosenberg.

    1. I know my grammar (I am a published author), The “I’ vs “you” has to do with a way of expressing and responding. You are talking dictionary and may not “get” the difference between emotional ‘grammar’ and english class.

  2. leej,

    Imo, it was good advice for retaining and even improving the relationship. Accusations tend to hurt relationships. Taken to the extreme, “you” statements are bullying.

  3. (Bettykath I remember learning a long time ago when I want to write someone a note, or respond to them verbally about how I was affected by something they did or said, if I didnt want to make it accusatory, I should make it an “I” statement. I felt (thus and so) rather then “You made me feel, you did this, you did that.” )

  4. bettykath,

    Then you and I have something in common: we’re both early strong readers. I was reading and writing at a college level in the 4th grade. However, apparently you missed the part where I said I argue for sport which simply puts us at a dialectical difference in preferences of style. Your preference for NVC certainly explains a lot though. I’m familiar with the work of Marshall Rosenberg. I’m not a fan. I don’t subscribe to the view that human needs don’t conflict and that conflict arises solely when strategies for meeting those needs come into conflict. Some conflicts have no harmonious resolution. That’s why we as social beings living in societies have developed legal/judicial and other alternative dispute resolution systems. It’s a nice idea, but a bit too Pollyanna. I know this because history and psychology tells me so. Some like Coke, some like Pepsi. Some like RC. If my style doesn’t suit your tastes? Again, no one is compelled to read anything they chose not to. It’s your choice, not mine. But just as I won’t have the content of what I write or speak censored by others in society (ala PC), I won’t have the style of how I say it dictated by others in society either, not the least of which includes followers of Rosenberg. Free speech is free speech and as Darren said the other day, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  5. Bettykath asked:
    “Is it legal for a security guard to physically detain someone? If that person dies as a result of the restraint isn’t that manslaughter?”

    It varies by state. I can only talk about WA because it is what is most familiar to me. Here is the gist of it:

    A security guard is no different than a private citizen. A private citizen can detain based upon the following: There might be more but this is what I remember.

    * To protect themselves or another person from harm by the detainee
    * To detain a person for arrival of police when the person has committed a crime against persons or in certain property crime
    * While being a merchant or an agent of a merchant to detain a shoplifter.
    * To detain a burglar or tresspasser until police arrival
    * While acting under the request of a law enforcement officer
    * At the request of a judge
    * Under the terms of a bail bond contract when the person has absconded
    * By employees or agents of a common carrier to detain a stowaway or disruptive passenger where safety is at risk.
    * By the sextant of a cemetery when the detainee has committed a crime that disturbes the peace or inflicts damage to the property (yes, there is actually a law for this on the books in WA)
    * a mentally hadicapped person who is a threat to the safety of him/her self and / or others.

    Interestingly, the courts (either the state supreme court or division 3 of the court of appeals I don’t remember which) ruled last year or so that assaulting a security officer or merchant while being apprehended for shoplifting constituted assault in the third degree (a class C felony) the same offense for assaulting a law enforcement officer making an arrest. The court ruled the statute applied to loss prevention officers who were authorized under state law to have powers of arrest for shoplifters and assaulting either a police officer or loss prevention officer making a lawful arrest constituted the same crime.

    Now for the second part of your question as to whether this constitutes manslaughter. In general a person may use “reasonable” force to effect an arrest based upon the circumstances involved. Essentially “reasonable” means that no reasonably effective alternative to the use of force appeared to exist and that the amount of force used was reasonable to effect the lawful purpose intended.

    For example. A shoplifter is caught leaving the store and a loss prevention officer takes hold of the person’s arm and walks them back to the office. That is reasonable. Beating them is not. But if the suspect fights back the loss prevention officer is authorized to use force to prevent themselves from being injured and to arrest the shoplifter.

    If we use the example of the person dying of a heart attack we look at the situation to see if it was a manslaughter. If the arresting lost prevention officer just used the arm hold the arm hold is not likely to cause a heart attack in the ordinary sense so there would be no manslaughter. If the loss prevention officer was not attacked or the arrest resisted and the loss prevention officer kicked the suspect in the chest and the suspect died of a heart attack it very easily could be considered a manslaughter due to the unreasonableness of the force and that unreasonable force was a proximate cause of the heart attack.

    Long winded, but I hope this helps answer your question.

  6. Is it legal for a security guard to physically detain someone? If that person dies as a result of the restraint isn’t that manslaughter?

  7. Gene,

    “I’m going to ask you a question and I’m not asking it to be mean, but I’m genuinely curious. Did you have a problem reading as a child?”

    roflmao. I was reading newspapers by the time I was 5, high school literature books (Prose and Poetry of England is one of them) by 7 or 8, 2 books/day from the library by 10. So, if there was a problem it was b/c I read just about anything I could get my hands on.

    I see too many unnecessary arguments, arguments that go on b/c people don’t understand the importance of non-violent communication. An important aspect of non-violent communication is for participants in the discussion to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements.

    If “violent” means acting in ways that result in harm, then much of how we communicate — with moralistic judgments, evaluations, criticisms, demands, coercion, or labels of “right” versus “wrong” — could indeed be called violent……

    The concepts and tools of Nonviolent Communication are designed to help us think, listen and speak in ways that awaken compassion and generosity within ourselves and between each other. Nonviolent Communication helps us interact in ways that leave each of us feeling more whole and connected.

    It ensures that our motivations for helping ourselves, and each other, are not from fear, obligation or guilt, but because helping becomes the most fulfilling activity we can imagine.

  8. I think you are right Gene. When I worked in banks, they always stressed to the tellers and the staff to not try to stop a robber, but to do exactly what they ask for, but try to be observant. For a store to decide who should be held for the police is stupid as the Wal Mart episodes are evidence of. It reminds me of the Rolling Stones using the the Hells Angels as security at an outdoor concert.(Altamount?) It didn’t end well.

    1. I guess that the armed guards in banks are just for show then, and they only have ONE bullet in their shirt pocket like Barney Fife. Of course, one does not want a shoot out in a bank, but after the SOB leaves, he can be fair game.

  9. raff/OS,

    Were I the plaintiff’s attorney in this case, I’d try to use the other episodes of death or injury to establish a pattern of negligence in Wal-Mart’s actions pertaining to their loss prevention policies. They shouldn’t be authorizing the use of force at all. Back in the day when I worked retail, every place I worked had a document and report policy: note what you saw and then call the cops as soon as the perp left the store and leave the rest to them.

  10. Bettykath,

    I suggest the problem is with your reading, specifically inference. Just because someone addresses you directly is no need to be defensive. Nothing was assumed about your thinking and my remarks were directed at your remarks. If I am unclear on what you are trying to say, I’m the kind of person that will ask for a clarification. As your remarks seemed straightforward, no clarification was necessary unless you didn’t say what you meant to say or thought you said or in some way did not convey what you intended by accident. You said you didn’t like reading the dueling so I responded that no one was forcing you read anything – which is true. The choice of what you read is yours. The second line is a conditional statement, predicated by the word “if”. If you do think I have the right to defend myself from slurs then it does not apply. If you don’t think I have the right to defend myself from slurs, then it does apply. No inference about your thoughts were made other than to present the two choices the situation presented albeit one tacitly implied.

    I’m going to ask you a question and I’m not asking it to be mean, but I’m genuinely curious. Did you have a problem reading as a child? I ask because I have a cousin who has a similar issue as yours with the written word and he suffered terribly from a reading disability as a child. There is no shame in such things. He doesn’t have a problem with verbal communication, but the written word still sometimes elicits unintended responses from him. Otherwise, he’s a pretty average guy. An innocuous spoken comment to him he’d have no problem with he’ll often interpret as an insult or being about something else if he reads it. He has some other issues too, but that happens quite frequently for him. So frequently in fact that his parents will not leave him notes or send him email (which he finds difficult to deal with anyway), opting to speak with him on the phone or in person instead. Like I said, I’m not trying to be mean, just understand why the pronoun you seems to cause distress. Not all people read as well or the same as others. Symbolic language has many drawbacks. Some people cannot deal well without the cues of body language and tone of voice . . . just like my cousin. I ask this because this is the second time you and I have encountered this particular issue and I’m a bit of a language geek. No insult is intended. If you think I’m improperly interpreting your remarks, just clarify. People misspeak and clarify themselves all the time. If you think I’m making an assumption about how you think, just ask me. However, usually I do preface an assumption with something like “I assume you mean blah blah blah.” or “Your assumption is/seems to be blah blah blah.”

    My remarks were directly addressing your remarks.

    Nothing more, nothing less.

    1. I too think WalMart is out of control, but not in the matter of shoplifting. I stay out of their stores as much as possible for a host of reasons. My only concern is what is a store or person to do when a crook takes your property illegally? From all the comments I have seen, it seems like the ONLY concern is for the welfare of the crook to be safe in his crime. If the store security did wrong in trying to fight this guy, what should they have done instead? Just let him go with the items? This tactic will simply tell others that if you are caught stealing, all you have to do is to put up a fight, and they will let you get away with the items. That works for guys like me at 6’5″ and 240# since there are few folks who can stop me So the little guy will just have to be caught. I guess, but then if he puts up a big enough fight, he too can be immune and make crime pay.

      In Texas though, such action will be very hazardous to the crooks health since there are a lot of folks who are armed. They CAN legally shoot the crook if he does not drop the loot. So if you wish to steal in Texas, you have to accept the risk, you may DIE because of your theft. I can say that since I do not have a CHL, but I do have a number of guns, if somebody steals my stuff or my neighbors and I can shoot them, I will..It is THEIR choice if they wish to take that risk.

  11. Gene,


    No one forces you to read anything. If you think nick gets to say whatever he likes about me without consequence though, you’d simply be mistaken. I’ll defend slurs against me how I see fit.

    Really. Then how does one address another other than using “you”?

    How about:

    I interpret nicks remarks as slurs and I’ll defend myself against them as I see fit.

    The other statements make me feel defensive and it assumes something about my thinking. I hope that wasn’t your intent, but that is how I read it.

  12. “Ooops, respondeat superior”

    That pesky agency relationship. 😀 I’m a bit surprised the more corporatist element hasn’t tried harder to do away with that too, Malisha.

  13. The choke hold is inappropriate in the shopping context.


    Anybody who doesn’t know that should not be dressed in the mantle of authority for any organization in the world.

    I thought we covered that in Portland, Oregon 20 years ago. NO NO NO BAD GUARD BAD GUARD. Ooops, respondeat superior: BAD STORE BAD STORE.

  14. If you know something that the OED and Strunk & White don’t know, I’d really be interested in hearing it.

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