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Disabled Woman's Parents Sue Walmart Over Shoplifting Arrest

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A mentally disabled woman's parents are suing Walmart after a bizarre incident which ended in a shoplifting arrest.

Jodi Kozma, 25, of Novi, Michigan, has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old. Yet while shopping at a Walmart in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, she was "muscled to the floor" by police who suspected her of stealing hair ties, reports the Detroit Free Press. Kozma's parents are now suing Walmart and the Livonia police for excessive force and emotional scarring.

What case does the Kozma family have against Walmart and the police?

Shoplifting Arrest Gone Wrong

This incident occurred in August 2012, but the Kozmas filed their suit in Michigan state court this May. The Free Press reports that the Kozmas also filed a "citizens complaint" with the Livonia police department the day of the incident -- which is typically necessary before choosing to sue the police.

You can hear a Walmart employee's call to police, and see clips from store surveillance video, in this montage by the Free Press:

Chief among the Kozmas' complaints is that Walmart employees and Livonia police escalated the situation by handcuffing Jodi and not allowing her to calm down. The Kozmas claim that Walmart and police officers were aware that their daughter was "special needs," but continued with their "SWAT-like approach."

Ironically, Jodi's grandmother had apparently purchased the hair ties she was accused of stealing.

The incident has allegedly traumatized Jodi, which sounds like an emotional distress claim. The Free Press reports that the Kozmas want "unspecified financial damages" and assurance that both Walmart and police will change their policies when dealing with the mentally disabled. Meantime, Jodi only wants an apology accompanied with a bouquet of flowers -- like in the movies.

Walmart and Police Responses

The retail giant continues to allege that "associates acted appropriately and followed protocol" with regard to Jodi. One month after the Kozmas filed suit in state court, Walmart moved to have the case removed to federal court. In many ways, federal court is friendlier to large corporate defendants; jury awards tend to be much higher in state courts.

The Arkansas-based retailer may also be attempting to use the federal court system to cow the Kozmas' attorney, who may be more familiar with the local Michigan court than the federal rules.

Regardless, the Kozmas' case for police brutality against the city of Livonia is likely to fare just as well in federal court, since civil rights complaints for police misconduct rely on federal law. The Livonia police still deny any wrongdoing.

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