Retailers, including big box stores, warehouse stores, and super discount stores, go to extreme measures to reduce “shrinkage” – loss of merchandise. The people you think of as security guards are actually “loss prevention” associates. Although they are sometimes armed, their primary purpose is to protect stores from shoplifting.
Aggressive, “zero tolerance” shoplifting policies have resulted in aggressive, violent behavior by security guards, often meaning the use of excessive force and sometimes resulting in the deaths of suspected shoplifters. In this country we reserve the death penalty for only the most heinous murders. When stores promote aggressive procedures for loss prevention, they, in essence, become judge, jury, and executioner, taking a life in exchange for a few dollars worth of merchandise.
Retailers use the excuse that shoplifting ultimately costs customers more money. Most consumers aren’t aware of little known laws in most states that allows retailers to issue a “civil demand” letter to suspected shoplifters, which requires them to pay money separately from any criminal action. Usually about $200, even if the value of the item they were attempting to steal is far less than that amount, and in spite of the fact that the item was never lost from the store.
In August, 2005, Stacy Clay Driver, a thirty year old father and master carpenter, was killed by loss prevention associates at a Wal-Mart in Texas. Four security guards threw him to the ground and pinned him, face down and shirtless, to the hot Texas asphalt for 20 minutes, while he complained that he could not breathe and begged for his life. At least one bystander asked them to let him up and told the guards that his fingernails were turning grey, but they refused to let him up. The Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Driver died from asphyxia and ruled the death a homicide. What prompted Wal-Mart employees to take such extreme measures against Stacy Driver? Store officials told police that Driver was suspected of exchanging stolen items for $94 worth of store credit.
Travis Shelton, 38, was killed in February, 2001, by security guards in a Kroger store in Detroit. A guard weighing nearly 400 pounds sat on him for ten minutes, compressing his ribcage and causing him to asphyxiate. At least one witness claims that one of the guards strangled Shelton before he was thrown to the ground.
In 2002, Jameel Talley, an off-duty police officer crushed the skull of a suspected shoplifter, while moonlighting as a Dillard’s security guard. The victim was 41 year old Guy Wills. Talley picked Wills up and threw him headfirst into a concrete floor. Talley was hired as a security guard for Dillard’s and was as a Maple Heights police officer, even though he had a history of using excessive force. In 2000, he had been fired by the North Randall Police department for shooting at a fleeing shoplifter. Talley was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Wills.
Hiring off-duty police officers to work as security guards is one way that stores try to avoid liability. Police officers have a responsibility to act as police officers even when they are off duty, should they witness a crime. When an off-duty police officer uses excessive force while acting as a security guard, the store may claim that he or she was not longer performing job duties for the store, but acting as a police officer instead. This shifts the liability to a government agency, and in some cases government agencies are immune from this type of liability.
Businesses are responsible for the actions of their security, or loss prevention, personnel. Excessive force, causing injuries and wrongful death , is often the result of:
- Inadequate training
- Failure to properly screen employees
- Inappropriate policies and procedures
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by security guards, loss prevention personnel, or any other retail employee, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today.