As a man started to abuse staff and tried to leave a downtown Auckland supermarket without paying, news publisher Todd Scott says he acted on instinct - tackling the thief to the ground.
But after holding him down for 10 minutes as staff called police, the owner of the National Business Review said he was surprised by their response, telling him to let the person go or risk being arrested himself.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, but I fair tackled him,” he told the Herald. “There were some questions about whether or not I played rugby. I’ve dreamt about it a lot.”
Scott was at Countdown Metro [now Woolworths Metro], on Lower Albert St, yesterday when he came across an incident involving a person he described as being drunk, aggressive and foul-mouthed who was abusing supermarket staff while trying to leave with boxes of alcohol.
“I was actually just getting some refreshments and some warm treats for the boys just down the road for the new office and I was getting them from Countdown,” he said.
“And this massive boof of a man was abusing the staff and stealing alcohol.”
Scott said he acted on instinct and did not think that what he was doing was wrong. The security guard stood nearby in support.
“I was the only person to restrain the individual on the ground and I did so for about 10 minutes while the store manager was on the phone to the police.”
Scott acknowledged he was surprised, however, when the manager whispered instructions into his ear saying police were advising that he let the person go.
“I am grateful to the manager of the store for whispering the instructions to me - rather than doing so in an earshot of the thug.
“This allowed me the upper hand, as the individual thought he was going to jail.”
Scott said the manager went on to tell him that officers could not come to the scene and that he could not make a citizen’s arrest. He was also told that he himself may be arrested.
“I invited the cop to arrest me if I had broken the law. He said I could be done for assault - but the victim [or] thief would have to lay charges.”
In a video he later posted on social media, Scott said he had stopped a police officer on the street after the incident to talk about what had happened and to ask if he had done anything wrong.
“The moral of the story is don’t get involved.”
The officer can be heard agreeing not to get involved - and for people to keep themselves safe.
Scott revealed shortly after the incident and while he was speaking to supermarket management and security, a second man was seen walking out the door with three boxes of alcohol unpaid for.
“If more people with the ability to do what I did today could do so without breaking the law, less people would get away with breaking the law,” Scott said.
Lawyer Michael Bott, who specialises in civil liberties law, said Scott was in the wrong when he attempted to make the citizen’s arrest.
Bott explained the quirks to the law and that the “shield of immunity” you receive when attempting to detain a member of the public as a citizen only applies between the hours of 9pm and 6am, or if the offence would amount to more than three years’ imprisonment.
“So like shoplifting, if it’s only like a piece of meat or something ... that’s not going to carry [that] penalty,” Bott said.
“If the stolen property doesn’t exceed $500, the maximum term of imprisonment is three months, so if that’s the case, there is no power to exercise a citizen’s arrest at the supermarket.”
Police have been approached for comment by the Herald.