Walmart fires employee for subduing burglary suspect

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- A 31-year-old Colorado man says Walmart fired him for doing his job.

Ramon asked his last name and hometown not be used, not because he fears retaliation from Walmart, but because he's worried about the countless shoplifters he helped the Commerce City Police Department arrest as an asset protection associate for the nation's largest retailer.

Ramon

Ramon was fired Nov. 10 after subduing a store burglary suspect four days earlier.

"All I was trying to do was do my job, the best I could," Ramon said.

Surveillance video shows Ramon getting sucker punched in the eye by the 21-year-old suspect, Juan Izalbe.

The video then shows Ramon tackling Izalbe and holding him on the ground until police arrived and handcuffed Izalbe.

"(Izalbe) flat out told me 'I'm schizophrenic, I don't know what I'm going to do,'" Ramon said, explaining why he bear hugged the suspect to the floor, "When someone says something likes that, you have to take those threats seriously."

According to the arrest affidavit, Izalbe entered the Walmart on Dahlia Street about 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 6, and proceeded to shoplift a hammer and a screwdriver.

He then walked to the sporting goods area and "Placed the hammer in the register and began to try and pry it open."

That's when employees called Ramon, who as an asset protection associate is in charge of stopping shoplifters and handing them over to police.

Ramon said he could see what was happening on a surveillance monitor and immediately called police.

Store video shows Ramon walking toward the suspect with his right hand holding his cellphone by his ear as he talked to police and his left hand with his palm out motioning Izalbe to stop.

A few seconds later, the video shows Izalbe punching Ramon in his left eye, causing Ramon to drop the phone.

Ramon immediately tackled Izalbe to the ground while co-workers watched.

Ramon

After he was arrested, Izalbe told police "He didn't mean to hurt anyone. He has schizophrenia."

Izalbe told officers that he went to the Walmart to buy his brother a video game and then decided to break into the cash register.

Izalbe also insisted he had a change of heart once a sales associate asked what he was doing.

Izalbe told police he tried to leave the store but insisted Ramon approached him in an aggressive manner.

"I'll take the charge for assaulting him, I know I shouldn't have done that," Izalbe told police.

But he added he did not officially break into the register.

On Nov. 9, the Adams County District Attorney's Office charged Izalbe with possession of burglary tools, attempt to commit burglary and third-degree assault.

Ramon

Ramon needed stitches for his left eye and missed three days of work. When he returned on Nov. 10, Walmart fired him.

"That hurt more than getting punched in the face. It`s like getting punched in the face twice," said Ramon, who was shocked by Walmart's decision.

The retailer said it would not discuss personnel issues, but according to Ramon's termination letter, he was fired for "gross misconduct."

"They flat out told me I could have avoided the situation," said Ramon, who insisted the punch happened in a split second and his immediate reaction to tackle Izalbe was appropriate based on the circumstances.

"Ramon could have prevented the incident if he had not approached the suspect with an aggressive manner, tone and identified himself properly," according to the termination letter.

"I don't know how they get aggressive tone. Literally, I'm on the phone with PD," Ramon said.

Ramon further points out it was Walmart that trained him to use an open palm to stop suspects from running away and adds he was the one who got punched.

"My mentality automatically went into defense mode," he said. "You know, what can I do to prevent this guy from you know hurting anybody else."

Walmart's policy for apprehending suspects, known as policy AP-09, says, "When a suspect is violent or hostile, in an apprehension situation, let the suspect flee out of the store and call law enforcement."

But Ramon points out Walmart's policy also states, "Authorized associates may use reasonable force to physically limit or control the movements of a suspect," which is what Ramon feels he did in bear hugging Izalbe until police arrived and arrested him.

"I felt like he created an unsafe environment for me," Ramon said. "And at that point of time, my safety was involved. At that point in time, not only that, the safety of other people.

"I felt like it would create a more dangerous environment to let him go than to restrain him."

Ramon made $15 per hour and said Walmart could have trouble recruiting workers for that position in the future if employees fear getting fired for using appropriate judgment.

He points out the incident happened five days after a gunman walked into the Thornton Walmart eight miles away and opened fire, with three customers dying.

"Even though I got terminated, I left that building with my head held up high because you know what, no one else got hurt," Ramon said.

Juan Izalbe

On Friday, the Denver District Attorney's Office charged Izalbe for a Nov. 1 burglary at the Walmart store on Smith Road.

Investigators said they found stolen money on Izalbe during the Commerce City incident that was traced to the Denver Walmart.

"Businesses must determine their own policies for the actions of employees in these situations based on the level of risk they are willing to tolerate for their associates," the Commerce City Police Department said.

"Regardless of those private policy decisions, the Commerce City Police Department will always work to uphold public safety wherever and whenever such incidents may occur."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Ramon get legal assistance.