(The latest: Police say they will seek charges against shoplifter in Target case)
Dallas Northington spent nearly eight years working for Target in loss prevention, roaming the stores and scanning the surveillance cameras. In an episode at the Leesburg Target store in May that he said was typical, a man was allegedly captured twice on video shoplifting, and Northington responded as he said he always did: He called the Leesburg police, made a report and provided them the videos of the two incidents.
But the man in the video may have been a Fairfax County sheriff’s deputy, Northington said he soon learned. And within days, two things happened: The deputy retired from the sheriff’s office and Target fired Northington, 29, a married father of two with a third child on the way.
Northington said Target officials told him that he had violated procedure by not filling out the proper paperwork before contacting the police, though he said his office had operated the same way for years. He said he also was told that he had been insubordinate for not seeking approval before calling police, though he said the standard practice was for him to act as needed.
But the man Northington said he and his supervisors identified as a deputy has not yet been charged with a crime though Northington said he had provided the man’s name and two color videos of him in action, his face clearly visible, to Leesburg police on May 27, the date of the second incident.
A Leesburg police spokesman said investigators were still trying to confirm the suspect’s identity. Northington said Leesburg police typically filed similar cases against shoplifters within a few days. He also said a Leesburg police sergeant investigating the case said while watching the surveillance video on May 27 that he recognized the man from a local gym where the two worked out. Store supervisors also knew the man, Northington said.
Northington said he is considering his legal options. “I’m confused and don’t understand why,” Northington said. “I’ve been there for eight years, no issues. I’m just trying to provide for my family, and I just really want to get back to work.”
Molly Snyder, a corporate spokeswoman for Target, said in an e-mail that she would not discuss the details of the case for privacy reasons. But in Northington’s case, she said, “we have conducted a full investigation and don’t believe there is any merit to this individual’s claims.”
Declan Leonard, Northington’s attorney, said he typically represents employers in such disputes, but “when we heard how he was treated by Target, we decided to step in.”
Leonard said Northington “intends to fight Target on this for as long as it takes.”
Northington said that in his role as an assets-protection specialist for Target, he had summoned the Leesburg police numerous times in recent years to investigate shoplifters and had done so without filling out any paperwork or seeking permission from a supervisor.
In the first alleged shoplifting, on May 16, Northington said, he arrived at work and his supervisor said he had noticed the man stick a tube of toothpaste into a bag after already paying for other items. He said the supervisor “didn’t feel comfortable” confronting the man, who the supervisor “thought was some sort of law enforcement.”
Northington said the store manager was contacted and the manager said he knew the man because they had participated in an NCAA March Madness pool together. The staff watched the surveillance video and decided, as they often did, Northington said, to wait for the man to return.
The man who Northington said appeared to be the deputy did not return a call seeking comment. The Washington Post is withholding his name because he has not been charged.
Northington said that when he clocked in on May 27, the supervisor told him the man had returned. That time, according to Northington, video appeared to show the man with a cart full of items at the pharmacy register inside the store but paying just for about half of them while concealing the cart from the cashier. After checking out, Northington said, the man wheeled away and stashed the rest of his merchandise, which Northington could not see, into the bags of purchased items and left.
Again, Northington said, the supervisor said he “didn’t feel comfortable” confronting the man, so the supervisor called Leesburg police and Northington went to the police station to file a report. A Leesburg sergeant then returned to the store, watched the video and said, “I know who that is,” Northington said. He said the sergeant also told him, “This is pretty serious” because the man was allegedly in law enforcement. Leesburg police confirmed that Northington had filed a police report on May 27. The Post did not independently review the video.
Soon after, Northington said, the supervisor told him the man’s full name. Northington said he phoned it in to the Leesburg police. It is unclear how the supervisor knew the man’s name.
On May 30, Northington said, he was called into the store’s personnel office and suspended for two days. The next week, he said, he was terminated for “gross misconduct.” He said he was told he had violated a policy on confidentiality by contacting police without approval, providing the surveillance video to police and not filling out internal paperwork before doing so.
“In my eight years, I’ve never had to call anyone to give out the video or to call police,” Northington said. “I have never seen any policy about contacting law enforcement.”
Lt. Jeff Dube of the Leesburg police confirmed that Northington had served as the complainant in an unknown number of cases with Leesburg police in the past. He said investigators “haven’t positively identified this guy. They’re still doing follow-up investigation.” He said he did not know why the case had taken so long to resolve but said “there might be some extenuating circumstances.”