The incident happened early Wednesday afternoon when two individuals, whose names have not yet been released, tried to lift some free purses. Security guards for the store gave chase to the culprits, who allegedly got involved in some sort of scuffle with one of the guards who caught up with them. Seeing what was going on, an armed security guard who wasn't affiliated with the mall decided he should come to the rescue by taking out his gun and letting off five rounds.
The shoplifting suspects momentarily escaped the Saks' security and customers, only to be detained by Palm Beach Gardens police not long after.
If the cops got the right people, there might be some misdemeanor convictions handed down. But the trigger-happy, off-duty guard might have committed a felony, although it doesn't seem the police are too concerned about random people firing shots in a mall parking lot.
The press release issued by the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department was titled "PALM BEACH GARDENS POLICE DETAIN SUSPECTS IN SHOPLIFTING INCIDENT." No mention was made about "detaining" the guy who pumped lead into the clouds over some purses, which sounds like the police likely didn't think he did anything wrong. And public information officer Ellen Lovejoy tells New Times that that no criminal action has been taken against the gunslinger. As to the legality of the warning shots, that's all under investigation Lovejoy says.
On the department's Facebook page, commenters were quick to ask about the legality themselves. They were told to look up the Florida statute regarding the use of deadly force.
But commenter Bonnie Zigman-Halpen wasn't impressed. "It's outrageous for the security guard to have risked the safety of innocent people by firing 'warning shots,'" she said. "I really hope this addressed."
"Warning shots" have been a Florida thing ever since Marissa Alexander's name got in the news. She was infamously sentenced to 60 years in prison back in 2012 for firing a warning shot at her estranged husband. She was sentenced under the Jeb Bush-created 10-20-Life sentencing law, which creates mandatory minimums for crimes involving guns. Eventually, Alexander got a retrial and took a plea deal to get out. In addition, her story inspired a new bill that allowed loosened the restriction on warning shots. That bill says you're allowed to fire warning shots "for persons acting in defense of life, home, and property from violent attack or the threat of violent attack through certain displays of or uses of force."
It's not clear what level of violent threat a couple of empty purse-snatchers posed. But Florida cops don't seem too concerned about gun laws when it comes to shooting guns at shoplifters. Earlier this year in Aventura, police fired at an unarmed shoplifter who was driving away. The Aventura PD said nothing was wrong with doing that.