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Alleged Shoplifting Defendant Claims False Imprisonment


The plaintiffs and appellee in the case is Virdie L. Smith et al. The defendants and appellants of the case are the Brookshire Brothers Inc. et al. The case is being heard in the fifth circuit of the United States Court of Appeals.

The Appeal

A New York Criminal Lawyer said in the original case, Donnie McClure and Virdie L. Smith sought damages against the Brookshire Brothers Inc, Kenneth Sandel and Glen Nevill. The reason for the case was malicious prosecution, civil rights violations, and false imprisonment. This particular suit was started because of the actions taken be Brookshire Brothers employees who took action against the appellee suspecting them of being shoplifters. In the original trial court damages were awarded to the plaintiffs and the defendants are appealing this verdict.

Original Case

On the 13th of September in 1971, Donnie McClure and Virdie Smith went to the Lufkin Brookshire Brothers to buy groceries. Virdie Smith put a few items in her cart and McClure placed a container of cold cream into the outer pocket of her purse. Smith went through the checkout and paid for the groceries. McClure was not leaving the store and had not gone through the checkout at this point, but was held by the defendants. Both women were taken to the back of the store where the Brookshire Brothers’ employees called the police. The policeman arrived at the store.

During his testimony the policeman states that he was not told how the plaintiffs were detained. He was simply informed that they had tried to take a container of cold cream. He took the women to the police station, on this basis alone, and proceeded to fingerprint them and book them. There was no written complaint filed when the women were transferred. The charges against the women were dropped as the district court stated that placing the container in her purse was suspicious, it was not grounds for detaining the woman for shoplifting (petit larceny) before she was given the chance to pay for it. The court also granted the plaintiffs each $6000 in damages for violation of their civil rights.

Case Discussion and Decision

For the defendants to be held liable in acting under the color of the law, evidence must be shown that detention of the plaintiffs without probable cause was being fostered. In this case, the police did not obtain the proper amount of information from the employees of Brookshire Brothers in order to make the arrest. A Bronx Criminal Lawyer said that according to the officer who detained the women the store had an agreement with the local police department in terms of dealing with shoplifters. When the employees suspected a shoplifter they would simply call the police and they would come and pick them up. When asked why Smith was detained as well, the police officer stated that in cases such as this it is likely the two are working as a team and had a plan before entering the store.

The district court found that there was enough evidence provided by the plaintiffs to show that they had no intention of stealing and that the store was acting under the color of the law. We affirm the original decision of the district court and the fine will stand in favor of the plaintiffs.

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