Suspected Hat Stealer Drops Dead In Macy's

Last Thursday, a 400-pound man in his early thirties was confronted at a Macy’s in Oakland, California, and accused of shoplifting a hat from the men’s department. According to CBS News in San Francisco, “Security officers at the mall then attempted to arrest and detain Gomes, who allegedly resisted and assaulted security personnel, according to police.” The police were called, but on their way to the mall they received a follow-up report that the man had become unresponsive. He died later that evening at a hospital.

Our question: can security personnel really arrest suspected shoplifters?

Go easy on the fat insults, y’all. The guy’s dead.

“Dead shoplifter identified” [MercuryNews]
“Coroner ID’s Suspect Who Collapsed At E. Bay Mall” []
(Photo: Gato Azul)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Shadowfire says:

    “Our question: can security personnel really arrest suspected shoplifters?”

    Sort of. I’m pretty sure it falls under citizens arrest, in which case they have to be damn careful the guy is actually stealing, and in how they detain him, etc…

  2. Mall cops are usually empowered to do more then store security (least in my neck of the woods). A lot of the mall police were regular cops who were working a second job, so that may explain it too.

  3. dlynch says:

    answer to your question: no. those dudes are getting fired, and then possibly sued. garden-variety battery, possibly false imprisonment.

  4. tedyc03 says:

    Security personnel in California can in fact arrest criminals, just like any other citizen. They can place a citizen under a citizen’s arrest and wait for police. But, if it turns out the didn’t have reasonable suspicion or that they acted negligently, they can probably be sued or charged themselves as a result of the death. IANAL but I can say that in these situations, it would have been best to let him go, write down his plate numbers, and give the en route cops the opportunity to make the arrest and then deal with the death (if it occurred).

  5. Pasketti says:

    I am no lawyer, but: []

    There is a relevant phrase there: “Detention of any person is permitted where probable cause exists that one has committed a felony, breach of peace, physical injury to another person, or theft or destruction of property. The key distinction between arrest and detainment is that a detainee may not be transported without consent.”

    So it looks like they can hold the person until the police arrive.

  6. ianmac47 says:

    The fear the “arresting” security personal need to worry about is false imprisonment; as long as they are willing to take the risk of arrest themselves then they probably can. Hopefully though, a very large lawsuit from the fat guy’s family will help restrain corporate rent-a-cops in the future.

  7. RevRagnarok says:

    But the most important Q is… did they rifle thru the corpse’s pockets to make sure he can show his receipt?

    PS. I agree with most other posts – if there’s probable cause, which is exactly what everybody says with the receipt checking stories.

  8. ???/??? says:

    Yes, they have to have actual video evidence of the man walking out the door. That’s the big issue, when does it become shoplifting? If I pick something up and put it in my pocket, there is no real indication that I’m going to steal that item. If I walk past the cash registers without paying for said item, then it becomes shoplifting.

    Unfortunately, by the time you’re past the cash registers, it’s too late for most security to catch up and detain you. I remember working at Borders, the rule was, if you see someone shoplift, just remember what they look like. That’s it.

    If a security personal attempts to arrest me, all I have to do is trip and fall. Bleeding gives you bonus points. Then the store is liable for any of my medical expenses, which believe me, would come out more then the cost of a crummy hat.

  9. Wormfather says:

    But technically, it’s not stealing until he leaves the store. I know in Connecticut that’s the way it goes.

  10. DeleteThisAccount says:

    @Wormfather: Part of the law has something to do with concealing… I’m sure one of our resident experts can tell us more about the two parts of the law that make up “shoplifting”

  11. TheBigLewinski says:

    So the question here is “should a store employee or security personel be able to detain a shoplifting suspect?) Before you answer, ask yourself another question: What if “I” owned a jewelry store and I saw an alleged shoplifter stealing?

    I feel that the shopkeeper has every right to protect their property. But, in the event there is forcible detainment they better have the goods on the shoplifter or risk getting their ass sued.

  12. Bladefist says:

    @한국어/조선말: I’ve been watched closely and followed before when I have been shopping. Because I am younger, and I would freak if anyone tried to detain me. It’s better to just monitor and call the police after that person leaves the store. It’s not worth someone getting hurt over a hat.

    왜 조선말? 재미있어.

  13. AMetamorphosis says:

    With all due respect:

    Has anyone even considered that this man was 400 pounds and his unhealthy weight “may” have in fact contributed to his death ?

    If he was being detained for shoplifting ( and assuming he did in fact shoplift ) I would imagine his heart rate was up.

    They have not clarified in the story if 1. he was actually shoplifting & 2. What the cause of death was pending results.

  14. Snowblind says:

    @Steve Trachsel, Ace:
    Like say… Gary Coleman?


  15. oakie says:

    @Pasketti: come back later once you’ve found a real resource.

  16. ecwis says:

    @TheBigLewinski: It would probably be easier to file a claim with their insurance company than to detain a shoplifter. I’m not that found of vigilantism…

  17. cosby says:

    Putting aside that the guy died for a minute I would like more information on what went down. A security video would be nice.

    Did the rent a cops have a right to try to stop him? Maybe. If they had good right to believe he stole the hat(ie video showing him stealing it) then yea they had a right to try to stop him. If they didn’t have this then I hope the family goes after them.

  18. hubris says:

    @AMetamorphosis: Has anyone said that the reason he died was because he was detained? Obviously his weight would have contributed, if not outright caused, his death.

  19. ColdNorth says:

    In Minnesota (where it is snowing HEAVILY right now), it is a crime to conceal an item within a store. Thus, you have legally shoplifted the moment you put it in your bag, purse, coat pocket, down your pants, etc.

    It matters not a whit if you actually left the store or not. The moment you stash it from view, you’ve legally stolen it and can be arrested.

    One other thing: Shoplifting here is an aggregated offense. This means that every time you steal something, it accumulates toward the felony level of grand larceny. Thus, if someone steals on separate occasions in small amounts, they are still on the hook for a major prosecution.

    Now, as I understand it, rent-a-cops could NOT stop someone in North Carolina, where citizens arrest is not recognized. But here in MN, if you’re willing to take the risk of a false imprisonment charge, you’re able to hold the perp until the real cops arrive.

  20. Traveshamockery says:

    @oakie: “come back later once you’ve found a real resource.”

    Or maybe you could find a contradictory “real resource” instead of making the assumption that the Wikipedia information is incorrect or misleading.

  21. cosby says:


    I agree with you on that. I’d bet when they figure out why he died it will be at the top of the list.

  22. The Boy Wonder says:

    In Boston, in order for a stop to be made there has to be concealment, the potential shoplifter has to move beyond all points of sale, and the security agent has to have the person in sight at ALL times (so as to not allow for the chance to ditch the item). In my store, the associates would call the LP agent if there was any suspicious customers, and he would then come down and physically tail the guy until he made a move to leave the store. He would then show his badge and escort the offender to the security office. Usually, the offenders were only given trespass warnings to prevent them from every coming back.

  23. Invisobel says:

    @Pasketti: But isn’t it different if the “citizen” in question is actually acting in the capacity of a corporate employee and not really a citizen. It would seem that in that regard this would be the equivalent of being detained by a private organization and ie. a big no no. But IANAL AND I am also not a lawyer…

  24. Am I the only central MA. native who thought of Spag’s when they saw this photo?

  25. DeleteThisAccount says:

    @ColdNorth: There you go. Concealment. I knew there was something I was missing. Thanks.

    I think as the economy keeps going down the tubes, shoplifting will become a lot worse.

  26. Brewtang says:

    I believe it has to do with trained security personnel verses your average Joe retail employee. I know that Mall security and some store security people in Florida carry hand cuffs and use them on people shoplifting. Also in FL you have to witness the person conceal the merchandise, have un-interrupted observation of them until they attempt to exit the store. Then you can attempt to make an apprehension. I give store security people credit, there was a shoplifter here in Jacksonville recently that ended up running from a police officer and shooting the officer 6 times…including in the jaw. The officer managed to return fire and kill the guy…over a pair of blue jeans. Craziness.

  27. sixninezero says:

    The larger problem here isn’t that this is a kid stealing a ball cap for fun or an item he personally wants. The majority of the problem shoplifters are part of a larger stolen goods fencing ring. These items are either fraud returned, sold at the swap mart or on eBay. The point for detaining is to gather information and have the suspect recorded with the local police. Catching these chronic thieves is important to first send them a message that they are being observed, they will be prosecuted and the thefts aggregated. More often than not the Loss Prevention departments of retail stores will keep images of know criminals on site and share this information with other stores.

    These professional criminals are the major cause of the pain everyone here complains about, receipt checking etc. They are no different from car thieves or home burglars.

    While I don’t have any information on the details of this case I will remind you that the Loss Prevention, Rent-a-Cops, mall security usually have a very strict rule set. They for the most part are undoubtedly aware of the local laws and ordinances for their protection as well as that of the suspect.

    There is inherit risk just as there is for the police. These professional criminals can be very dangerous. Within the last couple of years a Nordstrom LP agent was stabbed from behind while following a suspect to the car park to obtain a license plate number.

  28. savvy9999 says:

    So when you shoplift a hat, do you simply take it off the shelf and put it on your head and walk out?

    If so, then the ‘conceal’ argument doesn’t exactly hold water, because the item is still in plain view.

  29. ColdNorth says:

    @savvy9999: Actually, no. The conceal argument is still valid. In this case, the person wearing the hat around the store is concealing the item in plain sight. That is, he is pretending to own the item by wearing it.

  30. trillium says:

    Anyone else see the irony of the headline?

    Coroner ID’s Suspect Who Collapsed At E. Bay Mall

  31. AMetamorphosis says:


    Sadly, weather or not this man died of natural causes, the store will get socked with a HUGE lawsuit saying that he wouldn’t have died if they had just let the poor thief go …

  32. DogTown says:

    @Shadowfire: @Shadowfire:

    I think that a citizens arrest can only be made only if it’s a felony.
    Also, this story is too short on information about what caused this man’s death.

  33. bigvicproton says:

    maybe it was the hat that broke the fatman’s back…or heart, or whatever it was that broke…

  34. MrMold says:

    Depends on the jurisdiction and how much local law enforcement agrees with the security staff. If you really want to go crazy, check out the rights and privileges of shopkeepers. In my neck of the WhiteWilderness, a storeowner can shoot you dead for stealing. You are not likely to have recourse as your act led to your demise.

    The laws were written to assist small owners who can’t afford ‘shrinkage’.

  35. Claystil says:

    Fat jokes aside, this guy probably died BECAUSE he’s obese, so even if the gaurds acted illegally in attempting to detain him, can they at fault for his death?

  36. sir_eccles says:

    Personally I don’t think there is enough information in those two very small articles to determine exactly what happened but if you want to analyze particular wording, take this quote from the CBS story:

    “Alex Gomes II entered a Macy’s store inside the mall on Stoneridge Mall Road and allegedly stole something at about 8:35 p.m., Pleasanton police said.

    Security officers at the mall then attempted to arrest and detain Gomes, who allegedly resisted and assaulted security personnel, according to police.”

    Could be read as, he left Macy’s and was detained by Mall security not Macy’s security.

  37. TheBigLewinski says:

    @ecwis: “It would probably be easier to file a claim with their insurance company than to detain a shoplifter. I’m not that found of vigilantism… “

    Most shop owners have a deductabile for their insurance. Additionally, if you were to file a lot of claims, your insurance goes through the roof. It is cheaper to pay for a security guard.

    I think a “little bit” of vigilantism helps to deter some crime, just the thought that someone next you maight intervene may prevent someone from comitting a criminal act.

    It would be interesting to see some crime statics two similar populations where one is allowed to carry a firearm and the other is severly restricted from carrying. Anyone have references to such data?

  38. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    If it was at a Mall, did he leave the store and enter the common area? I can certainly see wearing a hat around the store while doing further shopping. I would expect that if asked I could talk my way out of it.

    I’ve never had a problem, but when at the grocery store with a 3 year old it has not been uncommon to open a package to let him have a piece. The cashiers have never commented nor looked surprised ringing up empty packaging for us.

    Where is the line drawn? It would seem that my behavior at the grocery store could be looked upon as theft, but it is simply good customer service to let me consume a couple of dollars in items (that I am paying for anyways…) when spending $200.

    I really like the scales that let us weigh and print labels. The cashier didn’t even seem surprised to scan the label on an empty banana peel.

  39. Hoss says:

    See what happens when you dont show a receipt!

  40. dt917 says:

    In most places, yes, they can. It’s called a “merchant’s privilege”. In most jurisdictions, shopkeepers can use reasonable force to detain people they suspect of shoplifting.

  41. mandarin says:

    Heart attack most likely. He probably panicked and his heart probably was already in a strain trying to maintain that bulk , it just failed.

  42. sixninezero says:

    Store loss prevention and mall security usually will work in conjunction during most incidents.

  43. Murph1908 says:

    Sure, then we can all pay for the shoplifter’s take.

  44. num1skeptic says:

    I figured he died trying to eat the evidence.

  45. snoop-blog says:

    Seriously, if you’re a 400lb thief, you really aren’t concerned with running away are you?

  46. AMetamorphosis says:


    Although I think opening something and consuming it prior to paying for it is a bad idea, I once was in a grocery store with a horrible cold. I picked up a bottle of nasal spray and promptly inhaled a dose. Then I continued shopping.

    When I checked out I paid for the empty package and attendant was flabbergasted that I was honest. I couldn’t understand her amazement.

    Personally, my karma is worth far more than the price of the package.

  47. oneswellfoop says:

    Maybe if more people had made fat jokes when he was alive, he would had gone easier on the cheese burgers and not dropped dead of what is probably congestive heart failure…

  48. SuperJdynamite says:

    @DogTown: “I think that a citizens arrest can only be made only if it’s a felony.”

    This is generally true, and the arresting citizen has to actually witness the felony. Also, if something happens to the detainee (like, for example, he drops dead) you could be held liable for civil and criminal penalties.

    “Also, this story is too short on information about what caused this man’s death.”

    Yes, but that won’t stop everybody from blaming the fatty.

  49. juliem says:

    Um, there isn’t a Macy’s in Oakland. So either this is a figment of someone’s imagination, or it happened in Pleasanton @ Stoneridge Mall.

  50. Juggernaut says:

    “Don’t tase me bro”

  51. ecwis says:

    @oakie: His source isn’t much different than the California Penal Code…

    A private person may arrest another:
    1. For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence.
    2. When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not
    in his presence.
    3. When a felony has been in fact committed, and he has reasonable
    cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.
    [Cal. Pen Code §837]

    Security personnel can arrest shoplifters but it should be against store policy. It exposes the company to too much liability.

  52. Flame says:

    Laws in different states vary widely. In Idaho, there is a two-prong test to determine if a detainment was legal. It is legal for store security to detain you for suspected shoplifting if: 1. They have probable cause to believe that you were shoplifting, and 2. If the amount of time that they detain you was reasonable. In this case, the second clause does not really apply, since the guy died within a few minutes. But if they did have probable cause, they could make a citizen’s arrest.

    @ecwis I agree that it exposes you to too much liability. I don’t know of any stores that will do this for a hat…big screen tv maybe….

  53. AnneCA says:

    BTW, Stoneridge Mall, where this happened, is in Pleasanton, not Oakland. A mall with an actual Macy’s in it in Oakland???? Thanks, I’ll be laughing about that one all day.

  54. Pylon83 says:

    As mentioned above, this is called the “Shopkeepers Privilege” and allows companies “shopkeepers” to detain an individual who they have a reasonable belief shoplifted something. It has to be more than “he wouldn’t show his receipt”, but if they have a witness who saw him take it and try to leave, they are protected against a claim of false imprisonment. This is pretty well established tort law.

  55. seth1066 says:

    Urban Sprinting- You don’t steal anything, but walk out with a security tag and trigger the alarm:

  56. jefffromNY says:

    Urban Sprinting will be the next batch of people throwing coffee on themselves in order to sue.

    Macy’s was in the right here, but no doubt they will get sued, and Macy’s should win the suit so long as there isn’t more than meets the eye.

  57. VidaLondres says:

    I live in Oakland, and I bemoan my driving times to go to Macy’s. There is no Macy’s in Oakland. A look at the store locator on the website confirms this. Where did they mean? Because I hate it when the San Franciscan news papers try to make our admitedly crime filled city look even worse.

  58. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @Claystil: I’m not sure. If he hadn’t been fat, but had had a weak heart or epilepsy or something else that could be affected by stress, I don’t know if the guards could be held liable — after all, you can’t know these things just by looking. You could argue that they should have known he was unhealthy because of his size, but morbid obesity has a different effect on every individual. One 400-pound man won’t have the same potentially lethal problems as another.

    I also think that a good defense lawyer could convince a jury that the man had a role in causing his own death, since it was probably his violent physical resistance that caused the most strain.

  59. whydidnt says:

    Years and Years ago, I worked security for an “upscale” discount store. The corporate policy was that in order to detain someone for shoplifting you had to see them remove the item from the shelf and walk out of the store without paying for it. Once the person had picked up the item, they could not be out of your site, even for a second before leaving. If the person met that criteria you could detain them until the police arrived. We were given hand cuffs and allowed to use them if we needed to detain someone. And there were times two of us would literally run at full speed across a large parking lot to try and catch a shoplifter.

    In those pre-hi-tech days we only had cameras pointed at the cash registers, not all around the store so we spent a lot of time peeking around corners. It was hard not to get “busted” trying to watch a suspect. And yes, we did have a “quota” of “arrests” to make each month and it was tracked quite closely, both in number and dollar value of the attempted theft.

  60. FLConsumer says:

    @AMetamorphosis: The All-you-can-eat buffets in town are breathing a sigh of relief.

    This case does bring up the issue of expecting security / law enforcement to make judgements of people’s health before the use of any force. Tasers have killed ~300 people so far. So much for it being non-lethal, not to mention the yet-to-be-studied long-term effects. With regards to this guy, he’s 400 lbs, so he obviously can’t move real quick. I’m not sure of exactly what went down, but they probably could have easily followed him and gotten his license plate #.

    Also, why don’t stores in America have remote-locking doors like many in the UK do? Same for banks. I see bank robberies in the news pretty regularly here. In the UK they have security screens to protect the tellers and also have remote locks on the front doors which activate until authorities arrive.

  61. BrockBrockman says:

    Link to overview on Shopkeeper’s Privilege:


  62. TPK says:

    Very interesting, after reading several of these shoplifting threads, I looked up the Virginia law, and quite to my surprise, all you have to do to meet the definition of “shoplift” is conceal an item while you are still in the store! Wow.

    Now I don’t know how they can prove intent at the scene, but they don’t seem to particularly care about that part of the law, judging from several recent police reports.


    “Shoplift” means any one or more of the following acts committed by a person without the consent of the merchant and with the purpose or intent of appropriating merchandise to that person’s own or another’s use without payment, obtaining merchandise at less than its stated sales price, or otherwise depriving a merchant of all or any part of the value or use of merchandise: (i) removing any merchandise from the premises of the merchant’s establishment; (ii) concealing any merchandise; (iii) substituting, altering, removing, or disfiguring any label or price tag; (iv) transferring any merchandise from a container in which that merchandise is displayed or packaged to any other container; (v) disarming any alarm tag attached to any merchandise; or (vi) obtaining or attempting to obtain possession of any merchandise by charging that merchandise to another person without the authority of that person or by charging that merchandise to a fictitious person.

  63. Claystil says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: That’s about what I was thinking, too. Maybe Macy’s should put up a sign warning pregnant women, the morbidly obese and people with heart conditions to not resist after being caught shoplifting.

  64. doireallyneedausername says:


    I was just about to write what you said. A Macy’s in Oakland is like saying that Oakland is a crime-free town. Ha! Author Chris Walters…please correct this article to say “Pleasanton, CA; approximately 40 miles southeast of San Francisco.”

    You could also throw in a piece about the town being a rich white suburb with snooty kids toting daddy’s $100k credit limit Visa card, but that might bias the story.

  65. BugMeNot2 says:

    @dlynch: You really don’t have a clue. Security have the right to arrest someone only if they view a crime. Only if they view a crime. If they saw it on camera, they viewed it and can arrest. Now states are different. If a person conceals an item, that is theft, legally, and they can be arrested for it. Some states they must leave the premises for it to be considered theft. In some stores, regardless of the law, guards are not allowed to arrest someone until the leave the store.

    These guys are only open to liability if the guy didn’t have anything on him. If someone is arrested and they didn’t steal, yeah you have false arrest and the company and guard can be held liable.

    So to answer the question that you falsely answered, can security personnel really arrest suspected shoplifters? The answer is, only if they have direct knowledge that the person stole something. Beyond that, it’s a lawsuit.

  66. Kilotonne says:

    What they thought was shoplifting, was gravitational pull. The guy was innocent.

  67. sixsnowflakes says:

    They killed a guy over a hat?

  68. bluewyvern says:

    @seth1066: All right, I think the idea is abominable, but I couldn’t help cracking up when the music from “Raising Arizona” started playing…