David Covert, 32, was charged with theft after he allegedly tried to shoplift from the store on Jan. 3. He ended up pleading in February to a reduced charge of unauthorized use of property, a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and paying a $100 fine plus restitution for the cost of the hard drive.
Covert, however, claims he never tried to steal anything from the Athens Walmart. In his lawsuit, filed Friday in Athens County Common Pleas Court, he alleges that he was "falsely accused of shoplifting and escorted by (the store's) security personnel to a private room where he was falsely imprisoned, and excessive force was used against him causing bodily injury."
Documents relating to Covert's case filed in Athens County Municipal Court indicate only that he was accused of concealing $69 worth of merchandise in a purse, and then trying to leave the store with no intention of paying for it.
Covert said Wednesday that the merchandise in question was a computer external hard drive, priced at $34.50. He said he was in a cashier's line with his fiance, getting ready to pay for the hard drive and other items, when store security personnel took him into custody.
Covert said the hard drive was in his fiance's purse, sticking out and visible, when he was stopped for allegedly trying to steal it. He claimed that while shopping he had taken the item out of its packaging earlier to inspect it for possible damage, and that the packaging material was lying in his shopping cart when the store detective apprehended him.
He said he really doesn't understand why he was accused of shoplifting.
"Quite honestly, I don't know," he said. "I was pretty angry at the time."
The excessive force claim in Covert's lawsuit stems from his allegation that while he was in store custody, a store loss-prevention officer shoved him twice, injuring his shoulder. This happened, Covert said, after he stood up and angrily demanded the return of his ID card.
Covert said he agreed to take a plea bargain in the case on the advice of an attorney from the Ohio Public Defender's office, but that he was not guilty of any crime. The offense to which he pled guilty, he said, is "basically like a speeding ticket."
Officially, the defendant in Covert's lawsuit is Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, a branch of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark.
His suit does not name a specific damage amount he's seeking, but asks for recovery from Wal-Mart "sufficient to compensate him for his damages," as well as attorney's fees.
The suit was filed by Scott H. Kaminski, an attorney from Charleston, W.Va.