Moultrie Observer

Local News

November 23, 2012

Shopping frenzy turns bad

Video shows a screaming, grabbing mob

MOULTRIE — Peace on earth and good will to men did not hold for Black Thursday shoppers whose pushing and grabbing over a cell phone deal reportedly sent two people to the hospital.

A man described the scene Thursday night at Wal-Mart as a riot that lasted for several minutes before store personnel began kicking out customers who had been struggling to get their hands on a deal in the phone section of the store.

“People were pushing to get to the cell phones,” said Garrett Presley, who said he was a short distance away in the computer section. “I know there was an elderly lady -- I think she was one of the workers -- who got injured. She went down and just disappeared.”

He said he saw a man carrying an employee with Liz on her name tag over his shoulder, but was not sure if she was one of two people taken away by ambulance.

Presley, who arrived at about 8:30 p.m. said people started lining up in the phones and GPS section, with the crowd visibly getting larger every five minutes or so. With people eventually packed “like sardines” and unable to move in the packed space, the people seemed frustrated.

When an employee tried to move a pressing customer back at about 9:50 p.m., Presley said, that customer hit the employee in the face with an elbow and the crowd went wild.

“That’s what actually started the riot,” he said. “When the riot was developing, it (the line) started making a circle. After that people started screaming, they ran over two or three Wal-Mart employees. People were pushing to get to the cell phones.”

About a minute and a half of the scene was filmed on someone’s cell phone, apparently, and could be viewed on the video site YouTube on Friday. As of 5 p.m. Friday more than 3,100 people had viewed it.

The video shows customers ringed around store employees and police, grabbing boxes from behind a counter and from each other, and pushing to reach the front of the line.

As the crowd got out of control, employees began telling everyone involved in the jostling to put down any merchandise and exit the store, Presley said.

“The cops were trying to get the things back,” he said. “Everybody involved in it, they were herding them towards the doors and said you’re through shopping. They were having a hectic time. Cops were leading people out of the store and they were angry.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said Friday that store officials were not aware of anyone being injured during the activity shown on the video.

The store had six Moultrie police officers and an outside service helping with additional security for the event, he said.

“This was unfortunate, not reflective of our stores across the country,” Hargrove said. “We prepared each of our 4,000 stores with a unique plan for Black Friday specific to each store.

“The information I’ve been given is no one was injured as a result of this situation.”

Moultrie police Inv. Dave Underwood said he had reviewed the footage online and saw nothing on it likely to result in criminal charges. He was unaware of any reports taken on Thursday, but had talked with one of the off-duty officers who worked security at the store.

“All I know is it was over a cell phone,” he said. “Wal-Mart had a listed sale of this cell phone they were selling for $40. That’s what I was told. It was a lot of pushing, a lot of shoving, a lot of screaming.”

No arrests had been made as of Friday afternoon.

“I do know -- I was told -- two people went to the hospital,” Underwood said. “One of them was an associate (Wal-Mart employee). I’m not sure if the other one was an associate or a customer.”

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