Sunday, February 20, 2011



We all hear a lot about job losses in this economy. I have had many friends find themselves unemployed since the recession of 2008 set in. However, no one I know of has lost their job in what seems such an unfair way as four longtime employees of Wal-Mart in Utah recently.

Lori Poulsen was an “asset protection coordinator” who helps to curb shoplifting in Wal-Mart. Justin Richins and Shawn Ray were “asset protection associates” who apparently worked with Poulsen. According to the Salt Lake City's Deseret News, the fourth employee was actually an assistant manager named Gabriel Stewart who had been with Wal-Mart some 12 years.

Last month, some employees allegedly saw Trent Allen Longton take a net-book computer and hide under his shirt after removing the item from its package. He was confronted by Poulsen when he tired to leave the premises, and escorted him to a private office. At some point, the other three, Ray, Richins and Stewart, came in with them.

The suspect, Longton allegedly produced a handgun while inside the office, and ran toward the office door, which lead to the store area. He was blocked by Ray, Richins and Stewart, the suspect then allegedly grabbed Stewart and shoved the gun into his back. The workers all forcefully and disarmed Longton at this point. Later it was learned that Longton, is a convicted felon so it was illegal for him to even have a gun at all.

The heroic employees were praised by police who noted that the Wal-Mart employees acted in the "best interest and safety" of those around them.

Were these brave workers promoted? Were they given a month paid vacation? Were they given a key to the city for saving one another’s lives, and that of any customers nearby the office?

No. Not even close. They were all fired!

That Utah Wal-Mart store follows a policy that the national chain states on its website:

"Investigation and Detention of Shoplifters Policy: If during an approach or investigation, it becomes apparent that the suspect has a weapon or brandishes or threatens use of a weapon; all associates must disengage from the situation, withdraw to a safe position, and contact law enforcement," reads a copy of the policy available online. "If at any point the suspect or any other involved person becomes violent, disengage from the confrontation, withdraw to a safe position and contact law enforcement."

Oddly, the next paragraph instructs employees to "put people first," stating that protecting the physical well-being of "suspects, customers and Wal-Mart associates is your first priority."

Speaking with the Deseret News recently, the loyal employees said they had nowhere to go and were forced to subdue the suspect when he charged them. They also said they were not comfortable allowing an armed man into the store area where shoppers could be at risk.


Stewart, told the newspaper he is still trying to understand the company's decision, and that, "I honestly felt worse than when I had the gun to my back," he said. "I honestly felt betrayed."

The betrayals continue. James Dallin, a 10-year assistant manager of Wal-Mart, was fired separating one of his co-employees from her allegedly abusive husband, also in Utah.

"Flung her, right away, verbally started abusing her," Dallin said in news reports. The man grabbed the woman hard by the arm and berated her as he escorted her down an aisle. Minutes later, the man still had a firm grip on his co-worker's arm and was continuing to verbally abuse her when Dallin said he pushed the man into a shelf and told him to leave, then escorted him out of the store. The man complained, and six weeks later, Dallin was fired for violating Wal-Mart's policy on "workplace violence."

Really. As a lawyer that deals with injuries, I understand why Wal-Mart does not want cowboy–like reactions by young employees who have watched too many superhero movies. They can make a bad situation a tragedy.

So, Wal-Mart likely needs this policy. However, it should be enforced on a case-by-case basis.

The first case occurred in a closed office, with nowhere to “withdraw” to. Besides, no one is faster than a bullet. And, if “people are put first” as they claim, the shoppers outside that office were certainly honored by not being drawn into a hostage crisis.

The second case reportedly went on for a while and did not escalate. Shoppers there were protected and the guy left the store. Should the angry husband have decided to kill her after brandishing a deadly weapon, the policy would seem to indicate Dallin should withdraw and let it happen.

Wal-Mart is wrong, for all the right reasons.

Finally, I suspect that the family of the slain 5-year-old little girl and the family of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford might have wished a Safeway employee would have been able to be as heroic as these workers, and could have stopped that violence.

Mr. Peel, a local Injury Attorney, may be available to speak at no cost to your club or church event. More articles maybe accessed at, or the “Christian Injury Attorney” blog at