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Walmart fires Layton guards for disarming shoplifter

Published February 10, 2011 5:22 pm

Policy • Store doesn't allow using force, but employees say they kept people safe.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The whole incident happened in matter of seconds, Lori Poulsen said.

She and the other security employees at the Layton Walmart Supercenter had stopped a man who had unwrapped a laptop and hidden it under his clothes. Trent Allen Longton was taken into an office, where he handed over the merchandise.

When Longton was asked to sit down, he said he needed to leave. He told the group he had something on him that he couldn't get caught with.

Poulsen watched as Longton, 25, reached to the small of his back and pulled out a gun, placed it on the side of his leg and cocked it. Poulsen announced "gun — hand" to let everyone know. Longton moved closer to the office door, where three other employees were standing. They raised their hands at the sight of the gun.

Longton stood behind assistant manager Gabriel Stewart, holding his shoulder with one hand and the gun inside his pocket with the other.

Security workers Shawn Ray and Justin Richins each grabbed Longton by an arm and spun him around. Poulsen then took the gun away from the man.

"All of it takes places within about 23 seconds from the time we got him into the office from the time we put our hands on him to get control of the situation and removed the gun," Poulsen said.

"It was absolutely terrifying. We didn't know what to do, but once he didn't leave and felt that Gabe's life was in danger and everybody else's ...," Ray said. "We thought we had done the right thing."

It all just naturally happened, Poulsen said recounting the Jan. 13 incident.

A week later, the four employees were fired.

Poulsen, a Walmart employee for 7½ years, said they were fired for their inability to perform their jobs, with a comment on violation of the company's policy.

"I was very much at a loss. I figured there would be disciplinary action, but never through the whole process did I think I would be terminated," Poulsen said. "I never had any other disciplinary action."

The former employees are looking at their legal options.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company created its policy banning employees from using force to interfere with shoplifters as a safety precaution for everyone.

"Like most companies, we have policies and procedures in place that are designed to ensure the safety of our asset protection associates, store associates and our customers," said Dan Fogleman, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company. "Nothing is more important than our ability to protect our customers' and associates' safety and well-being. We always want to avoid having a situation escalate that could result in someone getting hurt."

"We appreciate the intentions demonstrated by our associates in this situation but, after a thorough review of what took place, it was determined the actions taken put their safety — and potentially the safety of our customers and other associates — in jeopardy. 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."

Ray, who had been with the store for 2½ years, said he doesn't understand the decision.

"We protected the customers. We protected ourselves," he said. "It was a first-time violation of any policy for all of us. We don't have marks on our records."

Longton was charged in Farmington's 2nd District Court with second-degree felony robbery and four class A misdemeanors — unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, use of a dangerous weapon in a fight, carrying a concealed dangerous weapon, and obtaining an identifying document of another.

Court records show Longton's criminal history includes felony convictions for drug possession, which prohibits him from carrying a gun.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree felony robbery and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Monday. The remaining charges were dropped in exchange for his plea.

He is set to be sentenced on March 28 before Judge John Morris, where he faces one to 15 years in prison for the robbery charge and up to a year in jail plus a fine for the class A misdemeanor.