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Al Norman

Al Norman

Posted February 3, 2009 | 10:12 PM (EST)

Another Shoplifter Death at Wal-Mart


Oh no, not again.

The media in Missouri reported Tuesday that a 38 year old caucasian man, identified as Russell S. Palmer, died Monday night, February 2nd while struggling with two Wal-Mart security guards as the result of an alleged shoplifting incident.

The fatality was a repetition of a similar death-by-shoplifting scene that took place less than two months ago in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when 53 year old Patrick Donovan died while being wrestled to the pavement by Wal-Mart employees. The retailer alleges that Donovan had stolen $393 worth of merchandise. Wal-Mart workers and one bystander held Donovan down, while one leaned on his back and another held down his arms and head. The police report says they told Donovan to stop fighting, and asked witnesses to call 911. By the time Donovan had stopped struggling, he had died.

A similar harrowing incident took place in August of 2005, when 30 year old Stacy Driver, of Cleveland, Ohio, a master carpenter and the father of a two year old son, died on from a heart attack while lying in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Driver was pinned down on the burning hot pavement by several Wal-Mart workers who accused him of shoplifting a package of diapers, a pair of sunglasses, a BB gun, and a package of BBs. After Driver was handcuffed, one eyewitness said a Wal-Mart employee had his knee on the man's neck and others were putting pressure on his back. "Finally the guy stopped moving and the employees got off him," the eyewitness told police. "They wouldn't call an ambulance. I looked at him and said, 'Hey, he's not breathing,' but one guy told me (Driver) was just on drugs."

The Kansas City Star described this latest death as the result of a 'scuffle,' which took place at Wal-Mart supercenter #234 on North Church Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. Palmer reportedly "went limp and abruptly stopped fighting," while being subdued by Wal-Mart employees. The guards attempted to conduct CPR on Palmer, but he died later in the hospital.

The Kansas City police said that according to the suspected shoplifter's girlfriend, Palmer took drugs for an unspecified medical condition. One TV station claimed that Palmer was a crack cocaine user, with a prior arrest record for stealing.

Wal-Mart issued a statement extending its "deepest sympathies to the family."

According to one Wal-Mart employee handbook, workers are told: "Great caution must be used in any shoplifting situation. If you suspect someone is shoplifting, maintain eye contact with the suspected shoplifter and notify a member of management. DO NOT, in any circumstance, accuse or try to apprehend a shoplifting suspect on your own. You may assist in the apprehension if directed to do so by a member of management or Loss Prevention." Wal-Mart also tells its employees, "Wal-Mart takes a very stern view of shoplifting and will prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, anyone caught shoplifting."

This is not a 'hands off' policy. It clearly suggests that Wal-Mart employees can "assist in apprehension," instead of leaving it to the police to handle. Wal-Mart likes to tell its workers to practice "aggressive hospitality," but it looks once again like Wal-Mart's workers have been a tad bit too aggressive.

These parking lot deaths would stop if Wal-Mart spent the time and money necessary to train its workers how to collect the information they need to help authorities make an apprehension. Deadly force is not appropriate, or needed, in these cases.

Regardless of whether you think every shoplifter is a drug dealer with a long rap sheet -- their life is worth more than a cheap pair of underwear, and they don't deserve to die face down in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Wal-Mart's "deepest sympathies" appear to be with loss prevention, over loss of life.

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and has been called "Wal-Mart's #1 Enemy by Forbes magazine. His website is http://www.sprawl-busters.com