Michigan Walgreens fires armed worker for "doing the right thing"

The Herald Palladium of southwest Michigan is reporting that a Benton Township, MI Walgreens has fired an employee who is being credited for saving the lives of several co-workers.

From the article:

A photograph of four children tucked in a thank-you card from a coworker reminds Jeremy Hoven he did the right thing.

But doing "the right thing" cost the night shift pharmacist his job at the Walgreens drugstore at Napier Avenue and M-139. The national pharmacy chain fired Hoven on Monday, eight days after he fired his handgun to foil an armed robbery and a potentially deadly hostage situation at the store.

"In my mind, I can look at myself in the mirror. I can lay my head down in bed and sleep. In my mind, I did what I had to do," said the 36-year-old Twin Cities-area resident.

The two masked gunmen fled after Hoven fired three or four shots from his revolver during the 4:30 a.m. incident May 8, a Sunday.

The card came from the family of a Walgreens manager who had been working that shift. Hoven, who spoke in measured, crisp tones, got a little emotional showing the card during an interview Tuesday at The Herald-Palladium.

He carried the card in a three-ring binder of notes, memos and news clippings about the incident.

Hoven's lawyer, Peter Kosick of St. Joseph, said he is studying whether to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Berrien County Prosecutor Arthur Cotter said he reviewed police reports and store security video. He said Hoven did nothing criminal.

"It's one of those difficult cases," Cotter said. "If you're Walgreens, what do you do? I'm sure their lawyers don't want people carrying guns in their store."

Still, he said, Hoven may have saved lives.

While the video of the incident will not be released pending arrests of the armed robbers, the newspaper reports accounts offered by Hoven, Cotter and Benton Township police appear consistent.

Hoven said his first hint something was wrong was seeing a manager run into a storeroom on the building's west side. Seconds later he saw a man brandishing a handgun, guiding the second manager around the shelf at the northeast corner.

"The first thing I tried to do was dial 911 but I couldn't get it done," Hoven said. "Within seconds he was over the counter. And I'm looking at the wrong end of a 9-millimeter (gun). He was holding it gangster-style" - sideways.

The robber had jumped over the counter, leaving the manager in the aisle. The robber came within a few feet of Hoven.

Hoven said the only thing behind the attacker was a cinder block wall. Thus he pulled his gun and fired three or four shots.

"I was creating a safe zone for myself," he said.

The attacker tried to fire back, but his gun either malfunctioned or the safety had been left on, Hoven said.

The two gunmen ran out of the store.

There have been no arrests in the case, and it is unclear if either of the armed robbers were wounded.

Hoven told the newspaper the drugstore cameras indicate 42 seconds elapsed from when the men entered and when they left.

"I was reacting out of fear, and the adrenaline was taking over. ... You could have probably taken my pulse from my breath because my heart was beating that much," he said.

Hoven said he handed over his gun and concealed weapons permit, a plastic-coated card, to the first police officer to arrive, a Berrien County Sheriff's deputy. Police are holding the gun pending further investigation.

A Walgreens employee since 2006, Hoven became night shift pharmacist at the Napier Avenue store in Benton Township when it opened in 2007.

The store was robbed by four neighborhood residents, one carrying a gun, in December 2007.

Afterward, Hoven said, he and other workers complained verbally to managers about the store's security shortcomings. He said nothing was done.

He said he then decided to get a concealed weapons permit. He said he is longtime gun owner and carries a National Rifle Association membership card.

He took the state-required Carrying a Concealed Weapon class through the Berrien County Sportsman's Club in Oronoko Township. The permit was issued in November 2008.

Hoven said he told no co-workers or Walgreens management that he carried the gun, and he never brandished it.

He said he knows of no specific Walgreens policy barring employees from carrying lawfully concealed weapons at work.

Kosick, Hoven's lawyer, said he suspects Walgreens didn't invest in more security because of the cost.

"It's all about the almighty dollar," Kosick said. "It's a really poor system" for protecting workers, customers and expensive drugs, many of which are sought by illegal drug users and dealers.

Hoven is quoted as saying he was surprised to be fired. He had hoped Walgreens would gain lessons about store security.

"I wanted to have a rational discussion about that," he said.

He said he met Friday with a district manager and a Walgreens security manager. He learned through an email Monday that he had been fired.

"I have more grief over what I got from Walgreens than what I had to do to save my life ... and save my co-workers," he said.

Hoven is quoted as saying he will seek another pharmacy job, describing the market for pharmacists as much tighter than it was when he graduated in 1999 from Ferris State University.

"And I think I'm going to retire from the night shifts," he said.

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