How much physical abuse can "Wal-Mart Cops" legally dish during a detainment for suspected shoplifting? Can cops seize a car for being used in a crime when no charges are ever filed?
My wife was shopping at a Wal-Mart supercenter. During her check-out, she had a pan that did not have a price. The cashier called a CSM over to look into the pan. She continued scanning items. She was also purchasing two spindles of blank DVDs. The cashier scanned the items and then said "These barcodes are not right." She removed a sticker and there was another barcode. She deleted the two wrong scans, and scanned one and the price came up. She asked my wife if that was OK, and she said yes, that was fine. She scanned the other set and continued. The CSM left with the pan for several minutes while they continued scanning the other items. The CSM returned, did not have a price for the pan, but told the cashier that the first stickered price on the blank DVDs was the correct price. My wife asked if that was correct, and the CSM said yes. The CSM had the cashier delete the more expensive priced line items and rescan the stickers that were on the DVDs. The transaction finished and my wife went to leave.
At the exit, she was stopped by a Loss Prevention employee on her way out of the store. The employee told her "I think you know what this is for," to which she responded that she did not. He forced her to accompany him to a room inside the store. She asked him if he was a police officer, and he said he was not. He proceeded to detain her while calling the police. When she asked why he was holding her, he replied that had the right to keep her, and asked her "Haven't you ever heard of a citizen's arrest?"
During the course of her detention by Wal-Mart, the employee told her to show him her identification. She was standing at the push side of her shopping cart and the employee was at the front end of the cart. She reached for her purse to get her ID, and the employee grabbed her by the arm and threw her to the ground. He pinned her down with his knee in her back, and proceed to hold her in this position for several minutes while yelling at her. She tried to explain that he told her to show him her ID and that's what she was doing. He handcuffed her, pulled her up, and then began to yell at her some more. The line of yelling consisted of things such as "You can take this to court and contest it, but you will lose, because I am the best loss prevention person in the Midwest" (she had not suggested anything of the sort, he was pre-emptive) and "You're just a thief." He was close enough that his spit was hitting her in the face while she was being yelled at. The tackle caused her to suffer a laceration on her knee, a deep muscle bruise on her arm, and discomfort in her shoulder.
Later, when law enforcement arrived, she tried to tell the officer what happened and how she was assaulted by the Wal-Mart employee. The officer told her "Be glad it was him. I would have tased you." He refused to listen to her protests about her detainment and what was going on. When the officer went to take her out, she asked what was happening. The officer responded "You don't get to ask any questions." She was taken into his cruiser. They proceeded to drive through the parking lot while the officer pressed buttons on the keyless entry for my car (her name is not on the registration, and I was not with her) car until he found it. He then told her that she was going to have our car seized under forfeiture laws. The car was towed and she was taken to the jail intake (Large city, 500,000-1 million people).
After being held for 14 hours, she was released without any charges being filed and no citations issued. During her time, no one told her she was under arrest. No one told her what crime she was being accused of. No one told her of her rights. No one told her what was going to happen to her. No one told her anything. She was denied access to an attorney during this time.
So, here is why this is posted here. I know from previous threads and other readings that there is a certain amount of leeway offered under storekeeper rights
for detaining someone suspected of shoplifting. However, this seems excessive. Did Wal-Mart's employee commit assault, false imprisonment, and other assorted crimes? Should we investigate suing Wal-Mart for the actions of their employee? Should we see action against the law enforcement agency for denying access to an attorney during processing?
Following up with the lieutenant who is the whole of the forfeiture unit, he told me that even though no charges were filed, they could still proceed with the civil forfeiture since the vehicle was used in a crime (She was not in the car at the time, and since no charges were filed, was there a crime?). However, since her name was not on the title, they said they would release it to me. I have to sign a "promissory note" (his words) saying that if I let her use the vehicle and it is used in a crime by her, I lose any standing for vehicle release. Does anyone else see anything wrong with that?
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