Rockey Carter is asking Wal-Mart for an apology. But he is unlikely to get one.
On October 16th, Carter was shopping at a Wal-Mart in McKinney, Texas. "I walked through the store selecting the items on my list, and sorted them in my basket according to food type as I normally do," Carter told me. "At the last minute I decided it would be fun to pick up one or two pumpkins for my wife's party. I went to the lawn and garden center because the pumpkins are located outside the store."
"I stopped my basket next to the display. I was still well within the store boundary. I wanted to be able to keep an eye on the shopping basket and I did not want someone to think the basket had been abandoned. There was an employee manager who saw me place the shopping buggy in the door and he said nothing to me about it. I picked up a pumpkin and was setting it down when the next thing I know I was tapped on the shoulder by another Wal-Mart employee, saying 'Please come with me.'"
"No one ever asked me the simple question if I was finished shopping or what my intentions were. I would have replied, I am still shopping and will pay for all my items before I leave like I have always done my whole life."
"After a minute or two of this, the employee told me that I needed to put the pumpkins down and just come with her. I was thinking perhaps I had committed a rule violation of the store by going outside to shop for pumpkins or there was some other minor concern. While following her in she began talking on her walkie talkie. This is when I started to become nervous."
Carter says he was escorted by at least three Wal-Mart employees towards what he calls "the interrogation room." "At this point I became very nervous and frightened and decided to just leave the store. I was in possession of nothing that belonged to Wal-Mart as they had confiscated my shopping basket. I had not been told I was under arrest or what if anything I was being accused of. As I started to leave, a female Wal-Mart employee made a dive for me grabbing my clothes and called me a "son of a bitch." She must have tripped on something because she fell down. I turned around, asked her if she was ok, and helped her up. Another Wal-Mart employee then violently grabbed me from behind and physically assaulted me. My tooth was cracked in this exchange and is still causing me pain. I did not fight back or resist. I was then forcibly pushed and restrained against my will through the store causing me great embarrassment."
"I was pleading with them to just let me pay for what was in the basket and leave, and that this was all a huge misunderstanding, I told them I parked my buggy at the door to look at the pumpkins. I did not take any merchandise with me outside. I did not attempt to leave the store premises. Yet I was being held forcibly against my will and was being cursed at."
"I was thinking: if it is not allowed to go outside to shop for merchandise, Wal-Mart should not place merchandise outside."
Carter says that once inside the "interrogation room," things went from bad to worse. "I was treated like a common criminal. I kept trying to plead with them that I was just looking for pumpkins and to please just allow me to leave. My demeanor was never agitated nor was I using any foul or inappropriate language like they were using on me. I was repeatedly told to "Shut up."
When five uniformed officers from the McKinney police department arrived, Carter thought that someone would finally listen to him. But the officers' only response to Carter was: "You need to just sit there and shut up!"
"I was made to place my hands on a wall and was then searched and handcuffed. I was never read my rights or fully explained exactly what I was being arrested for. I did not have any Wal-Mart items on my person. An officer came to me and took my personal information. I was trying to speak to him, to convince him to listen to my side of the story, but his only response was 'We don't mess around in McKinney.'"
"I had been falsely detained against my will," Carter complains, "and assaulted by overeager, aggressive Wal-Mart staff because one employee thought I intended to commit a crime. All of this is on video tape to prove my innocence, but the tapes were never reviewed. I was guilty with no investigation done at all."
"I am gainfully employed and earn a good living as a corporate travel agent. I have been with the same company for many years. I strive to be a good provider and role model for my family. This event has greatly damaged my self esteem and self worth. If I wanted to steal something it certainly would not be groceries and it certainly would not be at a place where I shop regularly, where I pay for items with a credit card, and could be easily be identified on video tape."
Several "alleged" shoplifters have died during Wal-Mart "Asset Protection" incidents. In the retailer's Associate Guide, employees are instructed to "PUT PEOPLE FIRST. Protecting the physical well-being of suspects, customers and Wal-Mart Associates is your first priority." The Guide adds: "If at any point the Suspect or any other involved person exerts physical resistance, determine whether your next reasonable step is to disengage from the confrontation, or move to an authorized detention method. Associates may only defend themselves or others to the extent necessary to disengage the Suspect and to withdraw from the situation."
Wal-Mart allows its Asset Protection staff to "use reasonable force to physically limit or control the movements of a Suspect." But the policy notes: "Only the least amount of force necessary to affect the detention under the circumstances may be utilized."
Rockey Carter's pumpkin shopping turned into a Halloween nightmare. This incident is a reminder that "asset protection" warfare still exists at Wal-Mart. The McKinney police have not given Carter their incident report, and Wal-Mart may never turn over their tape of what happened October 16th.
"I plan to fight this case in any way I can to prove my innocence," Carter vows. "I was never properly questioned, and I was falsely arrested. I am requesting an apology from Wal Mart and to have these charges against me be dropped immediately."
Sam Walton's pledge to "take care" of the customer has become darkly nuanced this Halloween.