Reader J was detained and harassed by some Walmart employees on his way out of the store the other day. J had already put his receipt inside his wallet after purchasing a $25 shower rack when a Walmart employee demanded to see his receipt. J declined and continued exiting the store. That’s when things got weird. First, he was grabbed by a Walmart employee, then another customer started pushing him back inside the store.
Yesterday (2-28-08) late afternoon I bought a $25 shower rack at the Wal-mart in [redacted] New Hampshire, and then tucked the receipt safely inside my wallet so I wouldn’t lose it in case I had to return the item. The cashier did not bag the shower rack, so after I was done at the register I picked up my item and headed for the door. As I was approaching the door, the receipt checker Bob said, “Do you have your receipt?” To which I responded, “Yes, it’s in my wallet” and I kept walking towards the door. Behind me, I could hear him yell “Sir! Sir! I need to see your receipt!”, but being an avid Consumerist reader, I knew I didn’t need to stop, so I kept walking. Bob ran up in front of me and stood between the slider doors, blocking my exit and budging me back inside. Appalled that the Wal-mart employee had just touched me, I said “excuse me”, but Bob refused to budge, demanding again to see my receipt. I attempted to walk around him, but he kept stepping in front of me, and I would bounce off of him. Now, I was bigger than Bob, but I didn’t wish to get physical and blow the situation out of proportion.
At this point however, a random male customer came to Bob’s assistance blocking the exit and pushing me back inside. The customer, who was bigger than me, told me to show Bob my receipt. When I refused, the customer responded with “Maybe I’m a cop”. So now I have Wal-mart employee Bob and a customer impersonating a police officer physically blocking my exit and budging me back inside when I try to press by them. I was scared. I repeatedly asked the two of them if I was free to go, to which Bob said, “No, you need to show me your receipt.” At this point a female employee shows up (I think her name was Cindy) and joins in telling me that I need to show my receipt. The police officer-impersonating customer disappears at this point, but Bob is still physically rebuffing my attempts to exit.
I argue with the female employee for a while, getting nowhere, but for some reason Bob FINALLY stops pushing me back when I try to walk past him, and at this point I consider my illegal detainment to have ended. As I am outside the store and about to walk away, the female employee says something to the extent of “Fine, we’ll just write down your license plate number and tell the police you were shoplifting!”
Now, due to the nature of my work, I cannot get in trouble with the police, and any arrest, regardless of my guilt, could cost me my job. So at this point, I responded to her with “Are you kidding!!?? You’re going to lie to the police?” She shrugged, and walked back inside. I followed her, demanding to know what her name was, and although she didn’t tell me, I think her nametag said “Cindy”.
Currently standing back inside Wal-mart near the exit, I whipped out my cell phone and called 1-800-Walmart, and reported what just happened to someone at corporate. At this point there was a lot of onlookers because of the commotion, and I was extremely embarrassed. Anyways, I pulled out my receipt in order to read the person at corporate the store number, and I could see the look of surprise on the other employees’ faces. The corporate phone jockey took my name, number, and said someone would get back to me. After I hung up, I switched my phone to camera mode, looked at Bob who was still standing a few feet away from me, said “Smile, Bob”, and snapped his picture (attached).
At this point, General Manager David arrived on the scene, and told me that I can’t take pictures of his employees, that it’s a violation of their privacy (Hah!). I explained to David what just went down, and how it was not acceptable for his employees to lay their hands on me and to threaten me with making a false police report. I was actually surprised with the following discussion I had with David, who was nothing but professional and sympathetic. He understood how completely wrong his employees were, claimed that he’d review the security cameras (yeah right), and that his employees definitely needed some “retraining”. I thanked David for understanding, shook his hand, and went home.
I’m still waiting for the call from corporate. Wal-mart needs to understand just how much is at stake when their employees illegally detain customers. Their employees are literally putting their lives on the line. What happens when a customer is carrying for self-defense and fears for his life when a Wal-mart employee illegally detains him? Is it really worth it, Wal-mart?
I’m considering making a police report about the situation, but I’m not sure I want Bob arrested. Sure, I think that what he did was criminal, but he was just a below-average-intelligence, under-paid, and under-trained employee trying to do his job. Should I make the report?
Yikes! All that for a shower rack? Why didn’t the employee put one of those “sold” stickers on the stupid thing so that they wouldn’t have to launch a criminal investigation as you walked to your car? We don’t pretend to know the mind of Walmart, but we’re pretty sure their policy isn’t to attack their customers and file false police reports about them over a $25 shower rack.
Bob probably will not be arrested if you file a police report about the incident. If you were thinking of filing a lawsuit against Walmart for their behavior, you’d need to file one to use as evidence, but you didn’t mention that in your letter.
A formal complaint to Walmart is appropriate. If you file a police report, include it with your complaint. These employees obviously had no idea that what they were doing was wrong and are in need of some guidance. We’re surprised to hear a story like this from New Hampshire. Aren’t you guys supposed to be all “Live Free or Die?” Did the Walmart employees not get that memo?