Customer tries to stop mall shoplifter

by: Lynnanne Nguyen Updated:

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A scuffle outside Wolfchase Galleria leads to gunfire after a store customer decided to pursue a shoplifting suspect.

Memphis Police say a shoplifter stole from City Gear and ran outside, but a store customer went after him. Police said that's when a shot went off from the customer's gun.

“When I came out, the police officer wanted to know if we heard the shots. We didn't hear any shots. We didn't hear any shots at all,” Barnes & Noble Store Manager Robert Neely said.

No one was shot and both are in police custody.

Bartlett police have charged the alleged shoplifter, Nathan Williams, with carjacking, theft of a motor vehicle and vandalism.

According to the arrest affidavit, Williams ran away from Wolfchase and tried to get into a man's car in the Tellini's parking lot. The driver refused to let him in and drove off, but the suspect held onto the car until he eventually fell off.

Police said Williams then went to a nearby ambulance and asked for a ride. The affidavit states the suspect was told he could only have a ride to the ER.

At that point, police said Williams stole the ambulance key from the ignition and began running towards Highway 64. He was tackled by one of the ambulance workers, who then held him down until police arrived, according to the affidavit.

The man who confronted Nathan Williams has been identified by Memphis police as Christopher Jones. Police said during a confrontation with the suspect, Jones fired one round from his weapon into the ground.

The maneuver was an attempt to scare the suspect, according to MPD. The suspect then dropped the stolen merchandise and ran away.

Police said Jones returned the shoes to City Gear and then walked out of the mall.

He was taken into custody by MPD and charged with reckless endangerment and unlawful possession of a weapon.

FOX13 dug into whether an innocent bystander can step in to stop a crime that is in progress. According to University of Memphis Law Professor Steve Mulroy, it comes down to what is happening during a given struggle.

“It all boils down to what was happening in that fight. Did the alleged shoplifter start striking or attempting to strike the person and put them in reasonable fear they would get seriously hurt?" Mulroy asked.

That was not the case in this situation, where police said the customer fired the shot on purpose to try and scare the suspect. And in any case, Mulroy also said it's probably not the best idea to step in.

“I generally not advise people to chase someone down after they've already left the scene and are no longer presenting a danger to others, particularly with a firearm because that could get dangerous,” Mulroy said.

And when a gun is involved, remember this:

“Generally you're not allowed to use deadly force just to prevent a crime like shoplifting. You'd have to be in danger of imminent serious bodily harm or another person would be in danger of imminent serious bodily harm or death,” Mulroy said.