PALM COAST, Fla. – Home Depot has fired four employees from a store in Florida after they attempted to stop a theft last month.

On a personal note, I appreciate Home Depot. I spend a lot of time in their stores. I also appreciate their effort employing and supporting our Olympic athletes. As an organization, I believe they do many things right.

Yet firing four employees who tried to intercede during a crime was the wrong decision. I understand a policy to limit liability, but cutting ties with employees for stepping over this line is, in my opinion, over the line as well.

Last year I wrote an article titled, Culture of Cowards. The thesis for the piece is the fear being established in our culture regarding an aversion to risk:

What are we doing to raise the next generation of heroes? Are we facilitating or stunting their development? I raise the questions because I fear American culture is breeding an unhealthy fear of taking risks, and the unintended consequence is cowardice.

The terminated employees included Jeffrey Miller, 59, George Ippolito, 56, Joe Spector, 29, and Jazmin Kelly, 27, according to ABC News. Nov. 19, they worked together to try and track down a customer who was accused of shoplifting at the home-improvement chain’s Palm Coast store.

The co-workers said they were unaware that their well-intentioned efforts were against store policy. They had a few things to say after they were fired from the company last week.

Kelly told WKMG it was never brought to her attention that she wasn’t allowed to come into contact with a customer’s cart.

“They said I should not have touched the cart, but I wasn’t told that I wasn’t supposed to touch carts. I was always told you are supposed to ask a customer for a receipt,” she said.

Miller said he was “really shocked” by the company’s decision.

“I never confronted this individual,” he said. “Even if I saw him in a lineup I wouldn’t be able to show you what he looked like. All I was doing is getting a license plate (number).”

The suspect was identified as 22-year-old Brandon Charles Edward Mullins Lowe of Hastings, who reportedly admitted to stealing almost $1,000 worth of tools from the store.

Ippolito, who had been working at Home Depot for about a year, said there was more to the incident than just stealing.

“To me, it wasn’t about pursuing a shoplifter. I saw a guy crashing a cart into one of the cashiers and I was responding to her aid. Then he looked like he was going to attack Joe. He started dropping all the merchandise, and then he ran away,” he said.

At my police department, we do not encourage citizens to confront people involved in crime due to the risks, but when they do we honor them with a Crime Biter Award.

Sadly, Home Depot terminates their services.

Steven Holmes, a spokesman for the company, explained in a statement:

Pursuing shoplifters in the store or in the parking lot is extremely dangerous and risks the safety of everyone, which is why we only allow trained security personnel to do so. We’ve had instances of serious injury and even fatality in our stores. No amount of merchandise is worth risking the safety of others.

Ok, fair enough. You don’t want your employees injured trying to be a hero. I understand, even if I disagree. So perhaps a written reprimand would have sufficed? Terminating people with the heart of a sheepdog is simply bad policy.

The defendant, Lowe, was being held in the Flagler County Jail on the charge of grand theft.

– Jim McNeff