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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — A former security guard for King Soopers said he was fired after he was punched by a shoplifter.

“I absolutely was fired unfairly for defending myself. Every person has a right to defend themself,” Jessie Sims said in an exclusive interview with the Problem Solvers.

The 52-year-old had worked as a security guard for the grocery store for nearly 15 years when he said he was punched by a shoplifter on Aug. 22 at store #52, located at Colfax Avenue and Chambers Road in Aurora.

FOX31 has reviewed store surveillance video of the incident which doesn’t capture the punch but does record the immediate aftermath.

Sims said the shoplifter was in the camera’s view to show the moment he was punched in the ribs, but the video does show Sims walking backward as if he’s been punched before pushing the shoplifter away in a defensive motion.

Sims said he confronted the shoplifter as the man tried to leave the store with a bag full of snow crab legs worth more than $200.

In the video, you can see a brief scuffle between the two men and the bag of crab legs tears open causing the product to fall to the floor.

“I never struck this gentleman. It was all defensive, open-hand technique,” Sims insisted.

The Problem Solvers obtained a statement written by a co-worker on a King Soopers form that states: “Jessie came in contact with the shoplifter. The shoplifter then proceeded to punch Jessie.”

But Sim’s termination letter states the punch “was not seen on video” and adds Sims violated store policy because “Jessie left minimal room between himself and the shoplift subject. This made it difficult for the shoplift subject to easily leave the store.”

Sims disputed the facts of the termination letter and said, “Not true. He had plenty of opportunity to go around me, not through me, and not make physical contact with me if he so wished to go around me.”

The video shows the two men exchanging words and within seconds the shoplifter walks out of the store with no effort made by Sims to stop him.

When asked if he ever thought he would get fired over the incident, Sims replied, “Not for this. You know, this gentleman even made the statement, ‘Oh, you can’t touch me because your policies don’t allow it.’ I advised him it was caught on video that he struck me and it’s assault. And at that time is when he decided to leave.”

King Soopers policy restricts guards from touching suspects

While Sims acknowledged store policy prohibits security guards from touching shoplifting suspects, he said they are allowed to defend themselves if they are struck by another person.

Sims said he’s been assaulted five times in the past four years while working at King Soopers.

The Problem Solvers reviewed a video from July 2020, where a shoplifter clearly punches Sims in the face. In the video, Sims can be seen tackling the man to the ground and holding him until Aurora police showed up to make an arrest.

But in most cases, Sims said security guards aren’t allowed to do anything more than serve as a visual deterrence to shoplifters.

“I’ve had shoplifters come in, walk over, grab something off the shelf, look at me and go, ‘Yeah, I’ve got it. You can’t touch me. You can’t do nothing’ and walk right out the door,” Sims said.

When asked what kind of message he thinks King Soopers is sending to shoplifters he replied, “It’s a free-for-all. A majority of our criminal element that is doing this, know our policies. Know we can’t touch them. And they know if we call law enforcement, it could be two to four hours on average, sometimes two to three days before they (police) get in to do a report.”

Grocery costs increase due to shoplifting

Sims said it’s not just inflation that’s raising the cost of groceries, it’s theft.

“A lot of the stores have what they call ‘shrink,’ which is loss. Some of it’s due to spoilage product being left out, not being put back, but in the security department, we know that most of our ‘shrink’ walks out the front door.”

Sims told the Problem Solvers he’s contacted attorneys about filing a case of wrongful termination but has been told he doesn’t have a case because he wasn’t fired based on age, gender, race or a disability.

King Soopers declined to answer specific questions from the Problem Solvers but in a statement said, “At King Soopers our top priority is the safety of our associates and customers and any activity that does not align with that core value is addressed on an individual basis resulting in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

We’re experts in the food business and that is why we retain and rely on security experts with trained security professionals who can adjust to the needs of our stores and communities.”