Jay Dortzbach, Deseret News
LAYTON — The shoplifter smashed Gabriel Stewart up against a wall.
It didn't take him long to realize that pressure against his lower back was from a loaded gun held by a desperate man who didn't want to go to jail. The gunman had a firm grip on Stewart's shoulder, telling him and three of his Walmart co-workers, "Don't make me do this."
“Absolutely time stopped,” Stewart told KSL. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Instantly, Shawn Ray and Justin Richins kicked into gear, spinning the gunman around. Lori Poulsen ripped the gun away and secured it. They all held on to the man until police arrived minutes later.
The four Layton Walmart employees felt it was mission accomplished. Police officers told them they had done everything right.
But a week later, all four were fired from their jobs. Walmart said their actions had violated company policy and put their fellow workers and shoppers at risk.
It was the afternoon of Jan. 13 when employees at the store saw Trent Allen Longton unwrap a Netbook computer in the electronics section and stuff it under his clothes.
Asset protection coordinator Poulsen met him at the door, and ushered him back to the loss prevention room to confront him. Not long after, Ray and Richins — both asset protection associates — filtered in, followed by Stewart, an assistant manager, to witness.
Moments after he pulled out the small laptop, the workers say Longton also pulled out a handgun and charged toward the closed office door. Ray, Richins and Stewart were in the way. He grabbed Stewart as his way to get out.
“He looked right at me and said, 'The gun is cocked. C’mon guys, just let me go. I don’t want to do this,'” Shawn Ray recalled.
The four believe their quick actions to disarm and secure the man helped prevent what could have been a tragic event. They held the man until an officer arrived, who wrote in his report that in his and citizens' "best interest and safety," he took the suspect to the ground.
“I was thinking, 'Whose house am I going to tonight to tell their family their loved one was shot,'” Poulsen said. “You have to make a decision — do I fight for my life, or do I stand here and watch?”
Workers still can’t believe what happened the next week.
“She said, 'You’re fired,'” Richins recalled of the person brought in to let him go. “You’re being terminated for a violation of AP09.”
AP09 is Walmart’s policy on dealing with shoplifters. A copy obtained by KSL shows employees are allowed to use “reasonable force” to limit movements of struggling suspects. If a weapon comes out, however, associates must “disengage” and “withdraw,” the policy states.
The workers say they don’t know where they would have withdrawn to, with the door behind them closed in a small room and the man charging at them. They contend they had no other real option.
The former employees also are expressing concern about allowing Longton, armed with a loaded gun, out into the crowded store and beyond.
Longton, according to the police report, was a convicted felon who had multiple warrants out for his arrest. He was a restricted person — meaning he wasn’t supposed to be carrying a handgun. The handgun was loaded, according to the report, and contained a bullet in the chamber.
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