By Ashley Luthern
Jean Torres is out of a job one week after he called police about a shoplifter at his workplace, Home Depot in Boardman.
Torres, 31, of Youngstown, was fired Thursday for violating the company’s policy about pursuing shoplifters.
Torres said he was hired in January to be a pro paint specialist. He left his job as a manager at a local Auto Zone to take the position.
Torres said he was working May 10 when he saw a man leave a tool aisle and walk out through the doors, and he heard the sensor beep.
“I asked him, ‘Sir, could I check your bag?’ and I see that he has stolen merchandise underneath his jacket and under his armpit,” Torres said.
The suspect then walked out to the parking lot, placed merchandise in his car and sped off, Torres said. He acknowledges that he followed the man outside but maintains that he had no physical contact with the suspect and was no closer than 25 feet to him. When Torres went back inside the store, he called police.
“I had the best descriptions, and they were able to catch him,” Torres said.
Torres said he later was reprimanded by a manager about following the suspect and calling officers, and subsequently was fired for his actions.
Stephen Holmes, Home Depot senior manager for corporate communications in Atlanta, confirmed Friday that Torres had been “terminated.”
“I can’t publicly specify why. Again, I would stress if you look across retailers in the United States, you’ll see Home Depot is one of the most active and aggressive retailers in working with local, state and federal law enforcement to deter retail crime, including shoplifting,” Holmes said, adding policies are in place for safety of workers and customers.
Lisa LaBruno, vice president of loss prevention and legal affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said retailers have loss-prevention policies in place primarily for safety. RILA is a trade association that represents U.S. retailers such as Home Depot, Walmart, Gap Inc. and Target, among others.
In general, retailers train loss-prevention associates on how to detect a shoplifter, how to safely approach a shoplifter and how to disengage a shoplifter when an apprehension has escalated. Employees who are not loss-prevention associates generally don’t receive the same level of training, she said.
“There have been plenty of instances where shoplifters have been found to be armed, whether it’s a gun, knife or brass knuckles. Some might be high on drugs. Some might be on probation or parole and will do anything they need to do to not get arrested again,” she said.
“Retailers put safety ahead of a $20 widget, which is what they should do,” she added.
Another advantage of loss-prevention training is observing shoplifting tendencies so that actual customers are not accused.
“[Retailers] don’t want to take the chance that they will stop an honest customer, because honest customers don’t like that and it can be very bad for the brand and for customer loyalty,” she said.
Torres, who moved from Philadelphia to Youngstown about 18 months ago, said as a specialist who worked directly with contractors, he was unfamiliar with the store’s policy.
Holmes said that this is a “very well-known policy.”
“It’s common knowledge across our associate base that that’s our policy,” he said.
Torres said he found that out when he returned to work Monday, as some co-workers suggested he quit before being fired.
“I did my best every day even though all my co-workers were asking me, ‘Why are you here? Why don’t you quit?’ I had faith that I wouldn’t get fired,” Torres said.
To him, his action’s were natural: “I helped the cops apprehend a suspect.”
Boardman Police Chief Jack Nichols said that since the incident, a Home Depot customer-service representative called him, but not much can be done now. Last week, police released the suspect and let him keep the stolen property, per the instructions of a store manager, the chief said.
“In the future, I’ve told our officers that we’ll arrest and then subpoena everyone so that they have to testify — whether they want to or not,” he said.
Torres said this was his first offense at Home Depot. He said he enjoyed working there and the pay was good. He and his wife have four children and had purchased a home and car recently.
“I’ve been in marketing and business for the past 15 or 16 years. I’m left at a loss for words. ... Any other employer that wants a good, loyal customer-service representative, please reach out to me,” he said.