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Wal-Mart fires employee for chasing after thief
Company says Josh Rutner violated policy when he pursued alleged shoplifter

By Jackie Alexander
Staff writer

Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 12:19 a.m.

Josh Rutner said he was just doing his job as a Wal-Mart "asset protection officer" earlier this month when he chased a knife-wielding theft suspect across the store parking lot.

Josh Rutner, a former loss prevention officer for Wal-Mart, is seen in the parking lot of the store on Southwest 19th Avenue Road in Ocala.
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The man, later identified as Marc Ash, was arrested by Ocala police and the merchandise was recovered.

The next day, Wal-Mart fired Rutner.

Rutner said it boiled down to doing what was right or following policy. For him, it was an easy choice.

"I couldn't let him get away," Rutner said. "That's wrong."

But Michelle Bradford, a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman, said the store's no-chase policy is clear.

"We take the safety and security of our customers and associates very seriously," she said. "There are specific instructions as to what an associate can and can't do during a shoplifting episode."

According to Ocala police reports and Rutner's account, the trouble happened at the Wal-Mart on Southwest 19th Avenue Road near the Paddock Mall. Ash picked up a pack of golf balls, valued at $42.98, and put them in his pants.

Ash then took the golf balls to another section, left them, and ate deli chicken without paying, Rutner said.

Rutner said he watched Ash put the golf balls back in his pants and head out the front of the store.

After radioing for assistance, Rutner and two other employees tackled the man outside the food center doors.

Rutner worked for Wal-Mart for nearly four months, he said. He'd done plenty of stops before.

He wasn't expecting Ash to pull a knife, slash at his face and take off running, Rutner said.

"I felt now that he was a danger to the public and the city," he said. "If he'd pull a knife on two security guards, he'd pull a knife on anyone."

Rutner attempted to hit the man with a shopping cart, he said.

Customer Franchesca J. Marie told authorities she followed Ash into the parking lot from inside her car. She told him to stop and to put down the knife, which officials say she then picked up and threw in the middle of the road.

Police arrested Ash, who was charged with robbery with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault.

Rutner returned to work the next day.

"I was doing my normal routine," he said. "Nobody said anything."

Around lunch time, he was called into a manager's office. A corporate representative from Arkansas was waiting.

"They said this is a non-rehirable offense," he said. "At the age of 65, I can't even come back and become a greeter."

Bradford, the Wal-Mart spokeswoman, declined to comment on Rutner's potential for rehiring.

Rutner said he knew Wal-Mart policy prohibits employees from going after suspects armed with a weapon, but there was no time to think about the consequences.

Rutner turned in his keys, security codes and badge.

"I didn't get hurt. They got their merchandise," he said. "And yet I got fired."

Rutner said he was required to give a deposition Tuesday in Ash's court case.

Ash remains in the Marion County Jail in lieu of $57,000 bail.

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