Homicide Charges Possible For Utah Employees and Customers who Detained Shoplifting Suspect

Employees and customers at an Ace Hardware in Salt Lake City, Utah may be facing homicide charges after they detained a shoplifting suspect who later died.

Stopping a shoplifter

An employee at an Ace Hardware in Salt Lake City was working their shift when they noticed a man putting store merchandise items in his pockets. That employee attempted to confront the shoplifter but was unsuccessful as the shoplifter quickly fled the store. As he was rushing out, he was met by another employee who with the help of another employee and a couple bystanders detained him physically. Police officers arrived and put the suspect in handcuffs before they noticed he was not breathing. Officers then performed CPR and the suspect was whisked off to the hospital instead of jail where he later died.

Shoplifting

When someone is found to be shoplifting, the store owner or manager can document the crime and show it to the police after the fact to have the person arrested at a later time. They may also attempt to stop the crime from happening, even by detaining the suspect. Utah Code 76-6-603 states “Any merchant who has probable cause to believe that a person has committed retail theft may detain such person, on or off the premises of a retail mercantile establishment, in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time for all or any of the following purposes:

  1. to make reasonable inquiry as to whether such person has in his possession unpurchased merchandise and to make reasonable investigation of the ownership of such merchandise;
    to request identification
  2. to verify such identification;
  3. to make a reasonable request of such person to place or keep in full view any merchandise such individual may have removed, or which the merchant has reason to believe he may have removed, from its place of display or elsewhere, whether for examination, purchase, or for any other reasonable purpose;
  4. to inform a peace officer of the detention of the person and surrender that person to the custody of a peace officer;
  5. in the case of a minor, to inform a peace officer, the parents, guardian, or other private person interested in the welfare of that minor immediately, if possible, of this detention and to surrender custody of such minor to such person.”

Reasonable manner

While the above section does not mention using physical force, it is commonly expected that detaining a person would require some form of physical force, especially if the suspect was non-compliant. The only guidelines mentioned include detaining a shoplifting suspect “in a reasonable manner”. This non-specific wording allows investigators to determine whether or not the merchant or their employees took things too far. In the case of the shoplifter at Ace Hardware, the fact that his breathing was restricted enough to cause his death may be very likely to be seen as not a reasonable manner of detention. If that is the case, those responsible could face homicide charges for attempting to stop a shoplifter.


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