Two Alabama residents were featured in New York Times article “They’re Falsely Accused of Shoplifting, but Retailers Demand Penalties: Walmart and other companies are using aggressive legal tactics to get the money back, demanding payments even when people haven’t been convicted of wrongdoing.”
MOBILE, Ala. — Crystal Thompson was at home watching the Rose Bowl parade when a county sheriff came to arrest her for shoplifting from the local Walmart.
Ms. Thompson, 43, was baffled and scared. An agoraphobic, she had not shopped at a Walmart in more than a year. She was taken to a Mobile jail, searched, held in a small room and required to remove her false teeth, something she didn’t even do in front of her husband.
Four days after she returned home, the letters from Walmart’s lawyer started to arrive. The lawyer demanded that Ms. Thompson pay the company $200 or face a possible lawsuit. She received three letters over two months in early 2016.
Thompson filed suit against Walmart for false arrest, malicious prosecution and slander.
Elsewhere, in 2017, Walmart suspended a program that gave first-time Walmart shoplifters in about 2,000 stores a choice: Either pay hundreds of dollars and have their crime forgiven or face potential prosecution.
Typically, under these programs, a person accused of shoplifting would be given two options:
Option 1: security will call police.
Option 2: sign a confession, watch a six-hour video, pay $500 to Corrective Education Center (CEC) and the company won’t press charges.
In CEC’s corporate video, they call it “restorative justice.”
The company’s strategy of threatening to call police unless suspects admit guilt and pay for a course represents “textbook extortion under California law, and has been so declared for at least 125 years and repeatedly reaffirmed by the California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal decisions,” Kahn said.
CEC had been operating in 25 states, including California, at Walmart, Bloomingdale’s, Ralph’s and Kroger’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Burlington Coat Factory.
It is not known whether Walmart is still operating its shoplifter program in Alabama, nor how many people received letters demanding payment from Walmart’s attorneys.