West Virginia couple charged for shoplifting, assault at Surfside Walmart

Leeza Ferguson, Source: J. Reuben Long Detention Center
Leeza Ferguson, Source: J. Reuben Long Detention Center
James Ferguson, Source: J. Reuben Long Detention Center
James Ferguson, Source: J. Reuben Long Detention Center

SURFSIDE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A couple from West Virginia was arrested when they apparently tried to shoot a Surfside Beach Walmart employee after being caught shoplifting Thursday afternoon, according to police reports. Authorities found drug paraphernalia and meth-making materials in their car.

At about 2:25 p.m. Thursday, an employee saw 19-year-old Leeza Ferguson put a cell phone charger and swimsuit in her purse while 26-year-old James Ferguson looked on. When the pair went through the checkout line without paying for the items, an employee brought them into an office, according to the Horry County Police report.

Leeza Ferguson removed the stolen items from her purse, the report states, along with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. An employee unloaded the gun and put it in his pocket. James Ferguson then became loud and threatening towards another employee, while Leeza got a hold of the handgun and pointed it at the first employee. When she realized it was empty, she started to swing it at the employee, who pushed her down.

James Ferguson then took another handgun out of his waistband, and while Leeza tried to remove the safety, the employee twisted it out of her hand before she could fire it, the report states. Both suspects were escorted out of the store. Horry County Police arrived and transported the couple to Surfside Beach Jail without further incident.

One shopper says Horry County Police Department is at the shopping center almost every time she comes. When she heard that two guns were drawn, she couldn't imagine how it could get to that point.

"I mean I come here quite often and I'll see them parked up there or inside the store," said Erica Julian, who shops at the Surfside Walmart weekly.

"People probably think because they're not in their area, and they have to go home, that they can get away with doing crazier things," Richard Burch said.

At the request of the Walmart employee, an Horry County Police officer checked on the Fergusons' car, and saw drug paraphernalia and several assault rifle rounds in plain view. During a complete search, the officer also found needles and chemicals consistent with making meth. The chemicals were removed from the car, and the car was towed off the property.

A worker at a nearby business says she believes this particular Walmart is targeted because it is known to be very busy, and people think they can get away with things.  As retailers, she understands it can get tricky when it comes to confronting shoplifters.

"A situation like that, you really just have to feel it out," said Melanie Nelms, an employee at Once Upon a Child. "You have to know your limits you have to read personalities and know where you're going, and where your lines are."

When Nelms heard how the workers were able to take control of the situation, even with guns present, she was happy they were able to, but also couldn't help but think of what could have happened.

"You lunge at somebody with a gun and anything can happen," Nelms added. "They could immediately pull the trigger, or turn to one of the customers and put somebody at risk. That's something I wouldn't advise."

As of Friday evening, the couple has been charged with shoplifting and aggravated assault.  

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