LAKEWOOD, Colo. (KDVR) – Police held a Colorado woman and her boyfriend at gunpoint in January after a dispatcher received false information that someone in the couple’s car had threatened a Walmart asset protection employee with a gun.
“I hate to say it, but I actually played the scenario in my head of shots going off,” said Lakewood mother Celeste Lopez, who has four boys. “I could feel it, like, my heart started racing. I could feel the adrenaline.”
When police pulled them over, Lopez, who had just given birth days earlier, was in the car with her then-boyfriend and two of her four sons, including 1-year-old Louie and an infant named Ace. They had just finished a shopping trip to Walmart.
“When they yelled, ‘Gun!’ I felt like, ‘What gun?’ You know?” said Lopez, who said she was asked to lay prone on the ground while police told them their car had been linked to an armed robbery.
“We were pretty surrounded,” Lopez said.
Moments earlier, a Walmart asset protection employee, who said she was suspicious that Lopez had stolen something, had followed Lopez into the parking lot to get her license plate and was spooked by Louie’s toy gun, as the child played with it in the front seat.
She called 911.
“Hi, I have a shoplift in progress,” the store employee told a 911 operator. “They pulled a gun on me,” she said. “The person in the driver’s seat has a gun.”
The operator asked, “And did they point it at you?” The employee responded, “Yeah.”
At the time, the only person in the driver’s seat of the parked car was the 1-year-old, who was playing with his toy.
No crime committed
As police would later discover, no one stole anything from the store.
Lopez, who can be seen in Walmart surveillance video purchasing items through a typical check-out line and leaving the store with a cart filled with bagged groceries, had not shoplifted anything.
During the course of her 911 call, the Walmart employee eventually admitted to the operator that she had not seen the person with the gun.
“They held the gun outside of the window,” she said to the dispatcher.
“So, the person that had the gun – I want you to describe them. Asian? Black? Hispanic? Native? White?” the operator asked.
“I did not see the person,” said the Walmart employee.
The dispatcher asked whether the person had pointed the gun at the caller. “No.” she said. “They just – they hung it outside the window when I went to go get their plates.”
By this time, the police had already been dispatched with the information that a “robbery just occurred at gunpoint.”
A spokesperson for the Lakewood Police Department said agents responded to the situation with their duty weapons because they received information that a felony had just occurred with a deadly weapon.
“We have the situation that was given to us at hand – that someone would have a gun – so we would respond with our guns as well because the threat is there,” said John Romero, a public information officer for the Lakewood Police Department.
Although Lopez insists the guns were pointed at both adults and at Louie, Romero said the agents on the scene did not point any weapons at the boy.
“From what I understand, weapons were never pointed at a child. The weapons were pointed at the adults who were pulled out of the car because of the report we received that someone in the car threatened, I believe, an employee of the store with a gun,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate all the way around,” he said. “That said, I’m very proud of the way our agents handled it and were able to de-escalate that situation so quickly.”
Lopez said the agents were trying to instruct her son to put the gun down, but he didn’t understand what to do.
“They actually said, ‘Slap the gun out of his hand now,’” she said. “He’s a baby. He don’t know.”
Lopez said she feared that her son could have been shot.
“It just breaks my heart…every time I replay it. I really wish (the Walmart employee) took the time to say, ‘I really think you’re stealing.’”
A Walmart spokesperson apologized for the incident. Payton McCormick, a spokesperson for the company, issued the following statement:
“Our goal is for every customer to have a pleasant and safe shopping experience at all our stores and we have training and policies in place to make sure that happens. In this case, the incident was escalated unnecessarily and we apologize for the situation. We are following up with the store to ensure all policies are being upheld.”