Warning: Stealing from Walmart can get you killed.
Last week, an off-duty Houston police officer shot and killed Sherry Frey, a 27-year-old black mother of two, for suspected shoplifting at a North Houston Walmart.
According to police, it all started when Deputy Louis Campbell, who worked an extra job as a Walmart security guard, was told by two Walmart employees that Shelly and her friends were stuffing merchandise into their purses. When Campbell confronted them at the store’s exit, police say one of the women hit him with her purse and ran. Campbell chased them into the parking lot and held their car door open to stop them from leaving, but the driver sped off, at which point Campbell fired at the car, striking Shelly Frey in the neck. She died shortly thereafter at a nearby apartment complex.
Police have unsurprisingly tried to pin blame on the victim, saying that when the car sped off, Campbell fired his gun out of fear for his life because the women were trying to run him over. Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, Deputy Thomas Gilliband, said, “[The Driver] threw it in reverse and tried to run over the deputy” which “knocked him off balance and, in fear of his life and being ran over, he discharged his weapon at that point.” Gilliband also highlighted that one of the women hit Campbell with her purse when he tried to stop her at the store’s exit, as though being hit with a purse is somehow equivalent to shooting indiscriminately into a car. This translates into, “these (black) women are violent theives and got what they deserved.” And it’s not like gunfire is a disproportionate law enforcement response to the crime of shoplifting, an offense apparently punishable by death.
What the spokesperson didn’t mention is that there were two small children in the backseat, though its still unclear whether the officer saw them when he was forcing the car door open.
As for the two women who survived the shooting, both have been charged with crimes: Tiasa Andrews with robbery and assault of a public servant (I’m not sure if this is for purse hitting or the car door thing) and Yolanda Craig, with robbery.
Deputy Campbell, who’s been with the department for 26 years, is on three days paid leave, which ABC News reports is standard protocol. Meanwhile, the case is being investigated by the Harris County Sheriff’s Homicide Unit, Office of the Inspector General and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and will be reviewed by a grand jury.
Thus far, this story has barely registered in the media. As of this writing, a Google search of “Shelly Frey” resulted in just eight news stories. And only one of them humanizes the victim.
KHOU-TV took the time to speak with Frey’s family:
- “Shelly was the perfect mom, perfect friend, perfect daughter,” said her father, Shelton Frey.
Frey said the 27-year-old mother of two had moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina to start a new life. He said she was limited by how much she could work because of a 2-year-old girl with sickle cell anemia.
After a cousin called to tell them what happened, Frey’s parents drove straight from New Orleans.
The parents said they were never contacted by investigators and that they were not allowed to see their daughter’s body. She was the oldest of three children.
“I can’t eat, I can’t sleep—I just need to know,” her mother Sharon Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson said she also needs to know why the deputy took the shot he did.
“Why couldn’t you just shoot the tire, shoot the window?” she asked. “Was it that serious?”
Even if her daughter did commit a crime, Wilkerson said she did not deserve to die—or for her two young grandchildren to lose their mother.
“How do I tell these children she’s not coming back?” she asked.
This is heartbreaking and deserves way more attention than it’s getting. It also raises some serious questions about Walmart’s security policies. For example, does the company often hire police officers to guard it’s stores? Are police departments cool with that? What are Walmart’s “use of force” policies for their security team? Are police subject to Walmart’s guidelines when working security? or do they follow their department’s rules and regulations?
Walmart responded to the shooting with the following statement, which I believe raises even more questions:
“This is a tragic situation and we recognize this is a difficult time for all parties involved. We’re committed to working with law enforcement and providing any information we have as they determine the facts of the case. Because this is an active investigation, any specific details of the incident should come from law enforcement.
We hire off duty officers to provide security to some of our stores. While we have policies in place for our associates to disengage from situations that might put them or others in harm’s way, off-duty officers working at a WM store are authorized to act in accordance with their department’s code of conduct.”