By Al Norman
It took a jury one minute to find 57-year-old Vicki Carll not guilty of shoplifting from Wal-Mart. The real crime was what Wal-Mart put her through by seeking prosecution when they knew she was innocent.
According to court documents filed in Florida, Vicki Carll, a disabled mother, has retaliated for how Wal-Mart treated her by filing a lawsuit of her own against the retailer over the alleged shoplifting incident at a Wal-Mart in Tampa two years ago.
On January 2, 2014, Carll went to Wal-Mart to buy dog food. After browsing the aisles, Carll went to the pet food aisle, put a large bag of dog food in her cart, and picked up a box of flea medication to read the instructions. She noticed that this particular box of flea medication had already been opened. It appeared that the contents of the box were still inside and were undisturbed.
Carll began walking on for a while with the flea medication in her hand, reading the instructions. She realized that this medication was for dogs much larger than hers, so she returned the box to a nearby shelf. Carll proceeded to the check-out stand to pay for her dog food. She was unaware that a Wal-Mart "floor- walker" had been following her from a distance. According to the lawsuit, the "floor walker's job... is to look out for retail theft."
Carll's complaint says the Wal-Mart worker "had an ulterior plan and motive for which Ms. Carll seemed to be the perfect victim." The complaint alleges that the Wal-Mart loss prevention worker had observed Carll "pick up the box of flea and tick medication and watched from hiding as she returned it to the shelf."
The floor-walker "secretly followed behind her and surreptitiously grabbed the box of flea and tick medication from the shelf where Ms. Carll had returned it." He then went to the main entrance/exit area of the store and positioned himself on a bench just inside the main doors and waited for Ms. Carll to approach, keeping the box of pet medication concealed from view.
While Carll was standing in the check-out line, the floor-walker "removed the individual doses from the medication box and laid them on the ground under the bench where he sat in wait for Ms. Carll." "As would soon become clear," the worker's "seemingly inexplicable behavior was actually part of an elaborate plan concocted...to frame an innocent shopper and allow him to make an arrest, or 'stop,' on his very first day on the job, thereby ingratiating himself with his Wal-Mart employer."
As she passed by the bench, the floor-walker, "leapt off his bench as soon as she passed and fell in directly behind her." He then "physically accosted" Carll on the sidewalk, and "with his full force and strength, physically took hold of Ms. Carll and began dragging her by force back inside the store to a spot next to the bench."
The floor-walker was then joined by a second Wal-Mart employee who also "physically lay hands" on Vicki Carll, and dragged her back inside the store to the bench, and "forcefully threw Ms. Carll to the ground." "The force of being thrown to the ground caused Ms. Carll intense pain, as she had a pre-existing back injury from an automobile accident. The take-down...severely aggravated Ms. Carll's condition and caused her additional injuries."
The floor-walker then "reached under the bench and pretended to find the doses of pet medication scattered there beneath the bench. "Feigning surprise," the floor-walker "loudly - and falsely - proclaimed that Ms. Carll had attempted to steal the medicine by hiding it in her sleeve, and that she must have dropped it when she was forced to the ground." The Wal-Mart worker "falsely claimed that he had witnessed Ms. Carll take and conceal the pet medication while inside the store. He said that he had then 'sprung a trap' for her and had caught her in the act of trying to steal the pet medicine doses."
"Apparently unbeknownst" to the floor-walker, however, "Wal-Mart maintained security surveillance cameras in the area of the store entrance which recorded the events of that day." The video footage shows the floor-walker himself removing the pet medication doses from its box as he sat on the bench waiting for Carll to check out. According to the lawsuit, the video shows the floor-walker placing the medication doses on the ground underneath the bench.
Within an hour after the "forced takedown and false arrest scheme," Wal-Mart had available to it the video surveillance footage that "conclusively demonstrated Ms. Carll's innocence and the attempted frame-up by its employee." The complaint charges that Wal-Mart knew "without question" that Carll was innocent, that their own employee "had falsely accused her and planted false evidence to support the false accusations."
Yet Wal-Mart "took the almost incomprehensible step of initiating criminal charges and proceedings against Ms. Carll." The lawsuit says that Wal-Mart "intentionally and recklessly forced Ms. Carll to undergo the fear and humiliation of having to face criminal charges and forced her to live for a substantial time with the fear of being wrongfully convicted of a charge on which she was innocent." Carll "had to endure the humiliation of being processed into the criminal justice system all the way through a jury trial,"
But soon the humiliation flipped. According to Channel 10 News/Tampa, a Hillsborough County jury "found Carll not guilty in less than a minute." Carll's attorney told Channel 10, "I've never seen a case I can think about where the bad guy -- in this case the Wal-Mart employee -- was actually caught on video planting the evidence."
The complaint notes that Wal-Mart "allowed its employees to take the witness stand under oath and falsely accuse Ms. Carll of an act of theft which Wal-Mart knew she had not committed." The litigation says Wal-Mart "apparently decided to carry the charade of criminal proceedings to their ultimate conclusion by jury trial just to try to protect itself from civil liability by not admitting the outrageous wrongdoing of its own employees."
Carll's attorney says "she has been placed on anti-anxiety medications which she never before had to take and suffers from a fear of being in public and in social situations...Ms. Carll no longer shops at public retail stores unless absolutely necessary and makes her purchases on line whenever possible."
On Halloween, Carll's attorney filed a petition in the Thirteenth Circuit for Hillsborough County, Florida, seeking a jury trial and damages against defendants Wal-Mart and its two employees. One of the jurors that sat on the panel during Wal-Mart's original prosecution against Carll told Channel 10 News he "couldn't believe the state wasted time and money with this case."
After the jury acquitted Carll, Wal-Mart issued a statement which began: "This was an unfortunate event in a number of ways." But the retailer expressed no remorse and accepted no blame for what happened to Vicki Carll.
This elaborate entrapment and prosecution was over a bottle of flea medication worth $29, proving once again that Wal-Mart knows the price of everything -- but the value of nothing.