King Soopers Worker Fired for Filming Shoplifters Gets Praise From Cops | Westword

Cops Praise King Soopers Worker Fired for Filming Shoplifters: "His Video Helped Immensely"

Asked if the worker did the right thing, ACSO Detective Erik Vancleave says: "I think what he did helped us immensely and helped further our investigation."
Kings Sooper worker Santino Burrola caught the shoplifters on video last month as they were making off with a shopping cart full of laundry detergent.
Kings Sooper worker Santino Burrola caught the shoplifters on video last month as they were making off with a shopping cart full of laundry detergent. Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office
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King Soopers has come under fire this week — with some Colorado shoppers threatening to boycott the Kroger Company grocery chain — for firing an employee at a Centennial store who followed a group of shoplifters outside to their getaway car and filmed them loading it up with $400 to $500 worth of laundry detergent.

The Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, is patting the man on the back.

"His video helped us immensely," says ACSO detective and investigator Erik Vancleave.

"The video helped us track down the driver through the license plate and the registered owner — and led us to the person that we arrested," he tells Westword. "The entire video helped us immensely in leading us to the first arrest within 24 hours. And has led us down the path that we're at right now where we're hoping to have the other two people arrested by the middle of next week."

Santino Burrola was working the evening shift on June 18 at the King Soopers at 5050 East Arapahoe Road when he spotted three shoplifters attempting to make off with pilfered laundry detergent and Downy Unstopables at around 6:40 p.m. He followed them outside and started filming the shoplifters, posting the video to TikTok later that night.

"The Sheriff’s Office was made aware of [the theft] when [Burrola's video] was sent to us the next day," the sheriff's office said in a June 28 press release. "The video currently has millions of views and has been posted and shared on social media by celebrities such as Snoop Dogg, a rapper/actor with more than 80 million Instagram followers."

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In the video, Burrola can be heard chiding the three shoplifters as he captures them on camera with his cell phone.

"Really, bro? You gotta resort to this?" he asks at one point. "The economy's not that bad."

Thanks to Burrola's efforts, investigators were able to locate the registered owner of the group's getaway vehicle, who claimed that he'd loaned the car to a friend. The friend was then tracked down, arrested and interviewed about what happened.

"[The suspect] stated he picked up two other males at the Light Rail station at I-25 and Belleview and offered them an opportunity to make some money," the sheriff's office reported. "The men told the driver their names were Robert and Bugsy."
click to enlarge
Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office

The shoplifting incident has since gone viral, with media outlets around the globe picking it up over the past week after Burrola's video amassed over 1.5 million views on TikTok and over five million views on Instagram.

Kroger has a strict policy against employees interfering and/or following people who steal.

But Burrola never touched or tried to stop the shoplifters he was recording. The closest he came to intervening was at the very end of his TikTok video, when he grabbed a piece of aluminum foil that was covering the back license plate of the group's getaway vehicle as it slowly rolled away.
click to enlarge Santino Burrola, the King Soopers worker who was fired for following and filming shoplifters.
A GoFundMe has been launched for Santino Burrola and has raised over $25K.
TikTok/Santino Burrola

On July 3, Burrola told CBS Colorado that he was initially suspended for violating Kroger's policy against chasing or trying to stop shoplifters on June 19 — the day after the incident — but then fired a week later.

"All I did was just record criminals and reveal them," he said. "I would never let any criminal conduct slide, especially when it's happening right in front of me."

But Kroger and King Soopers don't feel the same way — and it shows in their recent track record. The Centennial episode is just the latest in an ugly string of shoplifting incidents that have led to terminations at King Soopers stores over the past year.

An incident in August 2022 at a King Soopers in Aurora — identified by FOX31 as store #52, located at Colfax Avenue and Chambers Road — led to a security guard getting axed following a scuffle with a shoplifter who punched him. “I absolutely was fired unfairly for defending myself," guard Jessie Sims told FOX31's Problem Solvers team in April, when the media outlet first reported his firing.

“I’ve had shoplifters come in, walk over, grab something off the shelf, look at me and go, ‘Yeah, I’ve got it. You can’t touch me. You can’t do nothing,’ and walk right out the door," he continued. "It’s a free-for-all. A majority of our criminal element that is doing this, know our policies. Know we can’t touch them. And they know if we call law enforcement, it could be two to four hours on average, sometimes two to three days before they (police) get in to do a report.”

Problem Solvers also reported on an incident last November when five employees at a King Soopers in Greenwood Village were shown the door after they held a shoplifting suspect captive and called police to arrest him. The man had stolen a cell phone and was wielding a box cutter that he dropped as he tried to make his getaway, FOX31 reported.
click to enlarge The entrance of the Centennial King Soopers where Santino Burrola caught the shoplifters on video.
The entrance of the Centennial King Soopers where Santino Burrola caught the shoplifters on video.
Patricia Calhoun

“He’s got a knife! He’s got a knife!" yelled Teresa Maldonado, one of the workers who was subsequently terminated, as the suspect attempted to pick up the box cutter, which he'd used to cut off the phone's security tag.

“I see him turn," recalled Greg McArthur, another employee who was fired. "There’s a knife in his hand. I see the knife. So I have an angle to wrap him, so I wrap him up, take him down, grabbed his left hand and remove the knife."

Two customers reportedly helped McArthur restrain the suspect, along with another worker named Naghi Salimi, who was also terminated. The other two employees who were fired, Julie Olivett and Pressley Swenson, did not physically take part in apprehending the shoplifter, and instead claimed they were fired for calling the police.

"King Soopers said if the police weren’t called and we would have let him go, then none of us would have been fired," Olivett told Problem Solvers. The incident took place at the King Soopers at 6000 South Holly Street, which is just a mile from where Burrola videotaped the shoplifters.

Sims, the security guard who got punched by a shoplifter last August, said after his firing that he had been assaulted at least five times by shoplifters over the past four years while working for King Soopers. A video reviewed by Problem Solvers from July 2020 showed Sims being punched in the face by a suspected thief before eventually tackling him and holding the man until Aurora police arrived.

Laundry detergent has become a hot commodity on the black market over the years, especially in Colorado — with one shoplifter, identified by CBS as Zola Diandwakila, going viral back in early June after he was caught on video fleeing a King Soopers in Brighton with a shopping cart full of Tide, Gain and Hefty garbage bags.
click to enlarge The King Soopers in Centennial, Colorado, where a worker was fired for filming shoplifters.
The shoplifters that Santino Burrola caught on video stole $400 to $500 worth of laundry detergent.
Patricia Calhoun
"You'll have to shoot me or give me my stuff," the young man allegedly told a security guard, while brandishing a screwdriver. "I'll stab you if you don't give me my stuff."

Diandwakila wound up making off with $600 worth of detergent and trash bags, according to police, and was later apprehended for driving a stolen vehicle. The video of him in King Soopers was first posted on June 1, but the theft took place on May 29 at the King Soopers at 100 North 50th Avenue. 
"We are disappointed by the increased level of crime across retail establishments and the impact these incidents have on our associates and customers," said regional King Soopers spokesperson Jessica Trowbridge in a statement to CBS. "We remain committed to working in partnership with local law enforcement to address this issue, as safety remains our top priority. Additionally, we have security measures in place to help prevent crime and de-escalate such instances."

King Soopers and Kroger did not immediately respond to Westword's requests for comment about the Burrola shoplifting incident and the recent string of terminations and theft cases.

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched by Burrola's family and has raised over $25,000.

While Detective Vancleave couldn't discuss specific details about the shoplifting case, he was able to confirm that authorities have set their sights on the other two suspects involved and are looking to make an arrest in the coming days — all thanks to Burrola.

"The video led us down the path that we're at right now, where we're hoping to have the other two people arrested by the middle of next week," he says.
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