Walmart fires workers who disarmed confrontational shoplifter

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Web Editor - Jay Marchmon

LAYTON, Utah (NBC) - Sometimes it doesn't pay to be the hero. Just ask four former Walmart employees.

They're looking for jobs after disarming an alleged shoplifter.

Police report on January 13, Trent Allen Longton was seen stashing a Netbook computer inside his clothes in the electronics department of a Walmart near Salt Lake City. Then, he headed toward the front of the store. The workers approached him and escorted him to the loss prevention office. That's where Longton took out the laptop, and then a loaded handgun. He rushed the workers, pushing the gun into Gabe Stewart.

Asset Protection Supervisor Lori Poulsen says they went hands-on. She ripped the gun away and they restrained him until police arrived.

"You have to make a decision -- do I fight for my life, or do I stand here and watch."

Happy ending, right? Fast forward one week ...

The workers were contacted for meetings, and each was fired for disobeying "A-P 0-9." A-P 0-9 is Walmart's policy on dealing with shoplifters. It shows employees are allowed to use reasonable force to limit movements of struggling suspects. But if a gun comes out,  associates must disengage and withdraw. In this case, withdraw where? These workers say they had nowhere to go, and no other real option.

Layton police say Longton--a convicted felon with a loaded gun, multiple outstanding warrants and a long criminal history--likely would have faced a stiff police response outside.

While authorities would not comment on the appropriateness of these workers' actions, the officer in the police report says it was in his and citizens best interest and safety to take the suspect to the ground. Longton was initially charged with five crimes. This week, he pleaded guilty to two counts: robbery and possession of a gun by a restricted person.

Walmart responded inquiries with a written statement: "We appreciate the intentions demonstrated by our associates in this situation, but the actions taken put their safety--and potentially the safety of our customers and other associate--in jeopardy."

The statement also points out the workers knew the rules before they acted.

No consolation to Stewart and the others.

As Stewart says, "I honestly felt worse than when I had the gun to my back. I honestly felt betrayed."

The former employees are considering their legal options.

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