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Walmart employees fired after stopping robbery

7:39 PM, Feb 14, 2011   |    comments
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Layton, UT (CNN) - Sometimes it doesn't pay to be the hero. Just ask four former Walmart employees north of the Salt Lake City area. They're looking for jobs after ripping a gun away from an alleged shoplifter.

"Absolutely, time stopped. I didn't know what to do," said former Walmart employee Gabe Stewart.

Stewart froze -- a gun pressed into his back, he was pushed up against a wall, and Justin Richins and Shawn Ray were backed against a closed door.

It was January 13. A police report obtained by KSL television shows Trent Allen Longton was seen stashing a Netbook computer inside his clothes in the electronics department. He then headed toward the front of the store. The workers approached and escorted him to the loss prevention office.

That's where Longton took out the laptop and then a loaded handgun, bullet in the chamber. He rushed the workers, pushing the gun into Stewart.

Asset protection supervisor Lori Poulsen says they went hands-on. She ripped the gun away and everyone restrained Longton until police arrived.

Game over. Happy ending, right? Fast forward one week. The workers say they were fired for violating the store's policy on shoplifters, known as "AP09."

AP09 shows employees are allowed to use reasonable force to limit movements of struggling suspects. But if a gun comes out, associates must disengage and withdraw. In this case, withdraw where? These workers say they had nowhere to go and no other real option.

Layton police say Longton, a convicted felon with a loaded gun, multiple outstanding warrants and a long criminal history, likely would have faced a stiff police response outside.

While the Layton Police Department would not comment on the appropriateness of these workers' actions, the officer the police report says it was in his and citizens' best interest and safety to take the suspect to the ground. Longton was initially charged with five crimes. This week, he pleaded guilty to two counts: robbery and possession of a gun by a restricted person.

Walmart responded to KSL's calls and emails with a written 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."

The statement also points out the workers knew the rules before they acted. No consolation to Stewart and the others.

"I honestly felt worse than when I had the gun to my back," Stewart said. "I honestly felt betrayed."

The former employees are now considering their legal options.

KSDK

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