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.


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.

Shoplifting for the Holidays

With little to no cash to spend for the holidays, many consumers resort to shoplifting for the things they want.

Shoplifting team effort

Photo by: Robert Sheie

Photo by: Robert Sheie

A St. George Utah couple was arrested earlier this month after they attempted to flee Christensen’s clothing store with over $500 worth of jeans. After pushing their way past the store owner, both individuals are facing charges for assault and theft. While many cases of shoplifting are due to something wanted such as multiple pairs of jeans, occasionally people are caught shoplifting for items truly needed.

Stealing the necessities

Photo: Gabriela Pinto

Photo: Gabriela Pinto

An Orem Utah mom was apprehended for shoplifting when officers discovered she was stealing groceries for her children whom she was the sole provider for. Instead of charging the single mom for shoplifting, Orem police officers saw a family in need and helped the mother and children with food and gifts just in time for the holidays. While the single mother is not facing charges currently, the store from which she stole still has the option to press civil charges. Hopefully they will show her the same kindness the officers did.


Photo by: Mike Mozart

Photo by: Mike Mozart

Shoplifting is defined as a type of larceny from a store or place of business. Shoplifting is rarely excused such as it was for the single Orem Utah mother. The majority of people facing shoplifting charges end up in court. Depending on the amount and the type of the items stolen, shoplifting charges can range from a class B misdemeanor for items totaled under $500 to a second degree felony if the shoplifted item was a firearm. For help in dealing with shoplifting or another type of theft charge, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Retail Theft in Utah

Retail theft is a growing problem in Utah and other states around the nation.  Shoplifting from any store is against the law, yet many do this knowingly as they either can’t afford an item, or they seek the thrill of the crime.  For whatever reason, these individuals are knowingly committing retail theft.  Besides shoplifting, there are other definitions by law of retail theft that shoppers need to be aware of.

Photo by: Mike Mozart

Photo by: Mike Mozart

Sales at the self-checkout lane

With self-checkout stations becoming more common in stores, it isn’t rare for customers to scan or type in cheaper items than the ones they are taking home.  Ringing in a .50 cent avocado instead of the larger $1 one is still considered retail theft.  This may be done intentionally, or it may be by accident.  Shoppers need to be certain that they are paying the correct price for an item, or find an employee to help.

Price, what price?

Bargain hunters have been known to challenge an overpriced item, only to remove the price tag hoping for a better deal once they reach the register.  According to Utah Code 76-6-602, this deception is considered retail theft, just like shoplifting.  A better solution would take your disputed item with price tag intact to the customer service desk or manager.  It isn’t unusual for them to agree to a lower price to keep a customer happy.

Retail theft isn’t worth it

Depending on the price of the appropriated item and how many previous retail theft offenses a suspect has had, the criminal charges can range from a misdemeanor to a felony.  It doesn’t stop there.  Beyond the criminal charges, stores can likewise file a civil suit for up to $1,000 as a penalty, even after getting their stolen items returned.  If you are facing criminal or civil charges for retail theft, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your options on how to proceed with the charges.