Houston, TX. Family of Suspected Slain Shoplifter Sues Wal-Mart
A few weeks before Christmas, 2012, Shelly Marie Frey was shot and killed in the parking lot of Wal-Mart supercenter #1279 on North Freeway by an off-duty sheriff's deputy who was responding to a suspected shoplifting case. Three months later, Frey's family has filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against Wal-Mart.
The off-duty Harris County deputy, Louis Campbell, said that he feared for his life when he shot into a car in which Frey, 27, was a passenger. The deputy claimed the dirover of the vehicle was trying to run him over, but the attorney retained by Frey's family says that deadly force was not necessary.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Frey was with two friends who were shopping at the superstore. They allegedly had stuffed merchandise into their purses. Wal-Mart's "loss prevention" staff asked the off -- duty sheriff's deputy, who was working for a private security firm hired by Wal-Mart confronted the women as they were exiting the store. Frey reportedly swung her purse at the deputy, and then jumped into a parked car.
The sheriff's office claims that the deputy went to the car, opened the door, and ordered Frey to get out. Instead, the car pulled away, and the deputy fire his gun twice, hitting Frey both times in the neck. The lawsuit charges that two children were inside the vehicle when the deputy shot into the car.
Campbell fired his weapon two times, striking Frey twice in the neck, according to the lawsuit. Cashin said two children were in the vehicle when Campbell fired. The deputy claims that before he fired his gun, the driver of the care put the car into reverse and tried to run him over.
A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Chronicle "This was truly a sad turn of events for all involved. We never want to see a situation escalate to the point where anyone gets hurt. We are continuing to cooperate with authorities as they work to determine all of the facts about what took place."
The Harris County Sheriff's Homicide Unit, the Office of the Inspector General and the Harris County District Attorney's Office are still investigating the case.
What you can do: This case is reminiscent of a situation in 2005 when a 30 year old man was killed in the parking lot of a Houston Wal-Mart.
The Harris County Sheriff's Department investigated the death. At the time, Wal-Mart's corporate office refused to discuss its procedures for detaining and using force against shoplifting suspects. "We don't speak publicly about our security measures," a company spokesperson said.
The Harris County, Texas Medical Examiner's Office later ruled that the man's death was a homicide. Wal-Mart eventually agreed to a settlement, and paid the man's family nearly $750,000.
Wal-Mart's Loss Prevention Associate Guide says that employees should "address the shoplifter politely and directly." It says that "reasonable force can be employed if the shoplifter refuses to return (to the store)." The policy goes on to clearly state, "If the situation becomes violent, or is deemed potentially dangerous, you should allow the shoplifter to leave."
That guide was later updated and given a new title, "Asset Protection Guide." Wal-Mart's policy now instructs employees to "PUT PEOPLE FIRST. Protecting the physical well-being of suspects, customers and Wal-Mart Associates is your first priority." Wal-Mart allows its Asset Protection staff to "use reasonable force to physically limit or control the movements of a Suspect." The policy notes: "Only the least amount of force necessary to affect the detention under the circumstances may be utilized."
Readers are urged to phone the Wal-Mart superstore in Houston where this death occurred, at (281) 999-9920 and leave this message for the manager:
"Please instruct your employees and your security guards to PUT PEOPLE FIRST, and protect the physical well-being of suspects. Shelly Marie Frey would be alive today if your people had followed this policy. Instead, she is dead, the two children who were in the car with her are lucky to be alive, and your company has another lawsuit against it.
It's time for Wal-Mart to stop killing suspected shoplifters."