Scott Hurst, 30, of Caseyville, Illinois, is looking for a job after he was allowed to resign as a JCPenney store loss prevention associate. He is also a volunteer firefighter and a member of the Army National Guard, and according to Hurst, was given an opportunity to resign before being terminated for violating the retailer’s policies regarding pursuing suspected shoplifters.
According to reports, Hurst was chasing a suspected shoplifter with some stolen fragrances out of the store in The St. Clair Square Mall. The suspect jumped over a fence, ran onto an adjacent interstate, flagged down a car and jumped into a passengers lap in a botched carjacking attempt.
According to Hurst, the incident began when he observed a male suspect carrying a bag in the store’s fragrance department. He approached the suspect because he believed he’d stolen merchandise. That’s when the shoplifting suspect ran and set off the chase through the mall and into the parking lot.
“He walks right onto the interstate, waves his arms, stops the first car that comes along,” Hurst said. “He walks over to the passenger side, opens the door without saying anything and jumps onto this girl’s lap. I jump the fence. The driver sees me, pulls over to the shoulder. I run up, open the door, grab the guy, pull him out, throw him on the concrete, restrain him.” Police arrived and assumed control of the situation. The vehicle’s passengers were shaken, but suffered no injuries from the incident.
Hurst says that he knew he broke the company’s policy, but once he saw the suspect enter an occupied car on the interstate, he was more concerned about the situation he had caused and the safety of the vehicle’s passengers, than he was of JCPenney’s shoplifting policies. “I knew I broke the policy,” Hurst said. “At that point, it was, ‘Okay, I can’t just stand here and let them face the repercussions of me chasing this guy out here.’ I can’t let him carjack these people, put them in danger. I couldn’t just stand there.”
On his way back to the store, Hurst said he found five boxes of cologne and the shoplifting suspect’s bag in the parking lot. The next day, Cartez Dixon, 19, of St. Louis was formally charged with retail theft, aggravated battery in a public way, criminal trespass to a vehicle and criminal damage to property.
Police Lt. Michael Hoguet wrote in a statement that the department “has no opinions or thoughts on the personnel policies of any business” in his jurisdiction.
JCPenney has strong policies surrounding the chase and apprehension of suspected shoplifters, as the vast majority of retailers do, and with good reason. Each year loss prevention, asset protection and security personnel, shoplifters, as well as innocent customers are injured, and in some cases killed because of aggressive action on the part of store personnel, putting everyone in a extremely unsafe situation, not to mention causing a tremendous liability for the company… and the damage to the brand can last for years into the future.
For its part, JCPenney issued the following statement: “JCPenney maintains policies and procedures that are designed for the safety and security of our associates and customers. Upon review of the events that led to the suspect’s apprehension, the loss prevention associate elected to resign from his post.”
“I broke the policy, I get that, but I wouldn’t change it,” Hurst said. “I do loss prevention to protect the merchandise in the store. But outside of that, I joined the military. Felt it was part of my duty. I joined the fire department. I volunteer to run into a fire, show up to accident scenes to help people. So to see (Dixon) jump in this car, my first instinct’s going to be, ‘Okay, help these people out,’ not ‘Oh, I don’t want to draw attention to the store, just going to go hide back here and let the cops deal with it. I put these people in the situation, I need to get them out of it.”
Hurst has backup options while he looks for a new job. The fire department allows firefighters to work up to 32 hours a week for a modest hourly wage. Chief Brian Doyle told Hurst he’s welcome to do that as long as he needs.