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Four Wal-Mart employees have been fired after management said they violated company policy by disarming an alleged shoplifter who had pulled a gun inside the store.

Lori Poulsen, Justin Richins, Shawn Ray and Gabriel Stewart were all longtime workers at Wal-Mart’s Layton, Utah, store. Poulsen was an asset protection coordinator, Richins and Ray were asset protection associates, and Stewart was an assistant manager.

On Jan. 13, employees allegedly witnessed a man identified as Trent Allen Longton take a netbook computer out of the package and stuff it under his shirt. When Longton attempted to leave the store, he was confronted by Poulsen, who escorted him to a nearby office. The two were joined there by Ray, Richins and Stewart, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reported.

Inside the office, Longton allegedly pulled out a loaded handgun and ran toward the office door, which was blocked by Ray, Richins and Stewart. Longton then allegedly grabbed Stewart and shoved the gun into his back. Concerned for their safety, the workers reacted forcefully and disarmed Longton.

In the police incident report, the investigating officer noted that the Wal-Mart employees acted in the “best interest and safety” of those around them. Longton, as it turned out, was a convicted felon who was prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Wal-Mart managers, however, disagreed. The following week, the four workers were fired for violating the company’s “Investigation and Detention of Shoplifters Policy.” The policy instructs employees to retreat if an individual brandishes a weapon.

“If during an approach or investigation, it becomes apparent that the suspect has a weapon or brandishes or threatens use of a weapon; all associates must disengage from the situation, withdraw to a safe position, and contact law enforcement,” reads a copy of the policy available online. “If at any point the suspect or any other involved person becomes violent, disengage from the confrontation, withdraw to a safe position and contact law enforcement.”

The next paragraph instructs employees to “put people first,” stating that protecting the physical well-being of “suspects, customers and Wal-Mart associates is your first priority.”

Speaking with the Deseret News last week, the dismissed employees said they had nowhere to go and were forced to subdue the suspect when he charged them. They also said they were not comfortable allowing an armed man into the store area where shoppers could be at risk.

In a previously released statement obtained by The Deseret News, managers defended their actions, saying the four put their safety “and potentially the safety of our customers and other associates in jeopardy.”

Stewart, who had been with Wal-Mart for 12 years, told the newspaper he is still trying to understand the company’s decision.

“I honestly felt worse than when I had the gun to my back,” he said. “I honestly felt betrayed.”

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