July 15

DOES TARGET, a major retailer, have a policy of protecting shoplifters at its stores if they happen to carry a badge and a gun? And do police in Leesburg, where one Target store is located, have a similar policy?

Those questions arise from a flurry of stories by The Post’s Tom Jackman, who reported on a pair of shoplifting incidents at the Target store in Leesburg in May. The incidents, captured in high-quality video by surveillance cameras, somehow didn’t result in charges being pressed against the suspect, a Fairfax County sheriff’s deputy, for six weeks — until The Post’s stories appeared.

For weeks, the Target security officer who reported the shoplifting incidents to Leesburg police was aware that the suspect, Robert H. Palmer, was a sheriff’s deputy. His supervisors at Target also knew it. For weeks, according to the Target security officer, the Leesburg police also knew the man’s identity. And for weeks, neither Target nor the police acted.

Instead, the police stayed mum and Target fired its security officer, Dallas Northington, a married father of two children who worked for the company for eight years. A Target company spokeswoman told The Post that Mr. Northington had been fired for insubordination; supposedly, he’d failed to fill out the proper paperwork before taking the case to the police.

In fact, says Mr. Northington, he’d reported many shoplifting cases to the police over the years, using the same procedures he followed in this case. There was nothing exceptional about these two shoplifting cases, conveyed to the police in May — other than that the suspect was in law enforcement.


RESTON, VA - JULY 10: Dallas Northington, 29, was a plain-clothes security officer at Target in Leesburg, VA, when he witnessed video of the same man shoplifting twice from store. He's pictured here on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

For his trouble, Mr. Northington, whose wife is pregnant with the couple’s third child, was dismissed on June 3. The same day, Mr. Palmer, the shoplifting suspect, retired from the Fairfax sheriff’s office, where he had worked for 20 years. His retirement, with full pension, may prevent any disciplinary action from being taken against him in the event he is convicted or pleads guilty on the two larceny charges, which were filed Monday.

And why only on Monday? The shoplifting incidents took place May 16 and May 27. According to Mr. Northington, his supervisor at Target was aware of both incidents; after the first incident, the supervisor had declined to confront the suspect, whom he thought he recognized as a law enforcement officer.

The Leesburg police have been aware of both incidents since May 27, when they saw the video footage of the incidents, in which the suspect’s face is clearly visible. According to Mr. Northington, a police sergeant who watched the video recognized the suspect, who lives in Leesburg. “This is pretty serious,” the sergeant said, according to Mr. Northington.

Yes, it is. It’s serious if law enforcement personnel get a pass on criminal conduct. It’s serious if a major retailer retaliates against an employee for doing his job. And it’s serious when police turn a blind eye to larceny until a newspaper shames them to acting.