Layton police would not comment on the appropriateness of the Walmart workers’ actions, but did acknowledge Longton — with the information that had come through dispatch — likely would have faced a stiff police response outside the store.
“Likely they (the officers) are going to produce their handguns and try and take the person into custody because you’ve got to be ready for it,” Lt. Garrett Atkin said.
Longton pleaded guilty to two charges Monday — robbery, a second-degree felony, and the purchase, transfer, possession or use of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, a class A misdemeanor. In exchange for his plea, three other charges were dismissed, including threatening or using a dangerous weapon in a fight or quarrel. Longton is scheduled to be sentenced on March 28.
The four workers were full-time employees. Stewart had been with the company for more than 12 years. Poulsen, who was employed for more than seven years, had made Walmart a career. Ray said his dismissal kept him from purchasing a home.
“I honestly felt worse than when I had the gun to my back,” Stewart said. “I honestly felt betrayed.”
The former employees are considering their legal options.
Walmart defended the firings in a statement.
“We appreciate the intentions demonstrated by our associates in this situation, but the actions taken put their safety — and potentially the safety of our customers and other associates — in jeopardy,” Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said. “In their roles within the store, they were aware of our expectations regarding safety and, unfortunately, their actions have led to them no longer working for the company.”
Stories of similar firings exist, including one in Kansas last May. A Walmart worker in Wichita was fired when she followed a man outside the store and demanded proof that he had purchased a computer. The man, according to news reports, kicked and hit the woman before letting go of the computer and running away. She was not an asset protection associate or a manager, and a spokesperson at that time contended she violated company policy and put herself and others in danger.
Corporate lawyers say company policies like the one at Walmart are common in the retail world. They’re designed to protect employees and make sure they don’t put merchandise ahead of their own safety.
Some security experts, however, take issue with the policy.
“I’m surprised they would be fired — they’re defending their lives,” said David Lundberg, who was a police officer for 21 years, has additional security experience and now runs Utahdetective.com.
Lundberg believes concern over liability drives these policies.
“People slip and fall, get head injuries, that kind of stuff,” Lundberg said. “So that’s what stores are worried about is the liability — getting sued.”
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