ST. LOUIS COUNTY — A shoplifter working in tandem with children ran over a store employee who followed her onto the parking lot of a Menards in west St. Louis County on Wednesday night, critically injuring the worker, police say.
The injured worker, a 49-year-old woman, was hospitalized with a head injury Thursday morning. She was in critical but stable condition after being struck and thrown off the vehicle, Sgt. Benjamin Granda of the St. Louis County Police Department said.
The attack happened about 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Menards at 14161 Manchester Road, which is near Ballwin but in unincorporated St. Louis County.
“This is awful,” Granda said, “not only for the victim whose life has been changed, but also for these children who were a witness or a part of these crimes.”
The shoplifter, a woman, also saw a man in a parked car taking a photograph of her vehicle; she confronted him, grabbing the phone from his hand and injuring his face, police said. She then got into the getaway car and “accelerated it toward a female employee” on the parking lot, hitting her, Granda added.
The shoplifter and five children she brought with her into the store got away. She is described as a black woman, 35 to 45 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds. She was wearing a bright neon shirt or jacket and a dark head wrap, police said The children appear to range in age from a baby to teenager.
Police released photos taken from video at the store. Granda said police might release video later. Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 866-371-8477 or St. Louis County police at 636-529-8210.
The woman and the children went into the Menards and walked the aisles, loading up a cart with various items. One of the older kids pushed the cart out without paying, Granda said. People on the lot saw the group rushing toward a white car; employees at Menards and a person on the lot “contacted” the shoplifter on the parking lot, Granda said. It wasn’t immediately clear from police how they confronted the shoplifter.
Many businesses tell workers not to confront shoplifters. The manager at the Menards store wasn’t immediately available. The main office in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, did not return a message seeking comment.
Jac Brittain, a loss-prevention expert based near Canton, Ohio, said what happened on the Menards lot “is exactly why companies have policies against” employees confronting shoplifters. Brittain spoke broadly about the industry and said he didn’t know Menards specific policy.
Brittain said, “Most companies have a policy — I can’t tell you one that doesn’t — where associates are not allowed to pursue shoplifters beyond a certain point: the door, the curb. There are certain liability concerns. There is nothing in the store that is worth getting hurt.”
Companies tell their workers that if a shoplifter resists, they should let the shoplifter go to avoid an altercation, Brittain said.
Shoplifting costs businesses, by some estimates, tens of billions of dollars every year in the United States, he said. “And it’s getting worse,” he said, partly because of desperate substance abusers getting into confrontations that become violent. Shoplifters are aware, he said, that the employees won’t chase them. Well-meaning employees who didn’t follow the company policy have been fired, he said.
“People want to do the right thing. People will say, ‘Look, I’m just trying to do what’s right,’” Brittain said. “It’s not worth somebody getting hurt. Period.”
Employees’ attempts backfired in one particular case often cited within the industry. In 2015, a jury in Omaha, Nebraska, ordered ShopKo, a discount store, to pay $750,000 to a man convicted of shoplifting from its store. The man was injured when two store employees confronted him for stealing two pairs of personal grooming scissors.