It was a split-second decision that cost Roger Kline his job.
Until Tuesday, the 51-year-old Kline worked in the computer department at Best Buy in Billings. He had held the sales job for over three years, he said, and was among the store's top performers without so much as a blemish on his employment record.
"I believe I was one of the highest-regarded employees there," he said.
But Kline ran into problems on March 28 when a would-be thief tried to run out of the store with two laptop computers.
Kline said his instincts took over, and instead of letting the man dash away without paying for the $1,600 in merchandise, Kline grabbed him and threw him to the ground.
The man, 45-year-old Brent Carter Latendresse, was arrested and has been charged in Yellowstone County District Court with felony theft and misdemeanor drug possession.
Latendresse is awaiting trial. Kline said he is taking a few weeks off before looking for a new job.
"Everybody is asking the exact same question," Kline said about his firing. "The problem is, I don't have an answer because the decision had nothing to do with morals."
A spokeswoman for Best Buy said the company could not comment.
According to court records, the incident at the West End store began when the manager heard an emergency alarm sound on a back door. The manager said he saw a man carrying two boxed laptops running from the back door toward another door at the loading area.
That door was locked, so the thief dashed back through the store headed for the front doors.
As the man neared the front doors, he tripped, falling face first into the glass. Court records state that the man was held until police arrived.
Kline has a similar account, with a few additional details.
Kline said he was standing near the front doors when he heard the store manager announce on the speaker system that someone was running through the store trying to steal laptops.
Kline saw the running man and began to move toward the front doors. The man fell before he made it out of the store, slamming into the floor and the first set of glass doors.
That gave Kline enough time to get outside the second set of doors just as the man tried to make his final escape.
Kline described his next act as a "spontaneous thing."
"As he stood up, I grabbed a hold of him and threw him to the ground," he said.
Kline landed on top of the man and intended to hold him there until police arrived.
But the store manager approached and told Kline to back off.
"Roger, you have to let him go," Kline said he was told.
Kline followed his boss's direction, while an unidentified customer took Kline's place and held Latendresse until a police officer arrived.
Kline said he didn't have time to think before he grabbed the fleeing thief, but he recalls clearly how he felt at the time.
"Someone steals from you, you stop them," he said. "That's the way I was brought up. I felt like the guy was stealing from me, not just the company. I guess I took it a little personal when I saw the guy run out of the store with two computers."
Kline says he knew better than to interfere with a crime-in-progress. It is against company policy at Best Buy to intervene in such cases. Kline said he accurately described his actions in a written statement he was asked to give by his boss the same day.
He was told that his actions would be reviewed.
Kline said he knew he could be fired for doing what he felt was right despite the policy. He even agreed to amend his statement to include the fact that he was aware of the company policy against such actions.
Then days days stretched into weeks without word.
"They had me in a holding pattern for a month," he said. "I was going to work every day just to greet the manager to see if I had a job because no one said anything to me about the whole process."
Kline said he did speak to someone about the incident by telephone, but he's not sure whom he talked to. He thinks it may have been someone from a company hired by Best Buy to investigate incidents.
After three weeks passed, Kline said, he sent an email to his boss asking about the status of his employment. He was told that a member of the company's review committee had taken some time off, but that a decision was expected soon.
Then on Tuesday, Kline was called into the manager's office and handed an "involuntary separation notice."
"Roger, you admitted that on March 28, 2011, you pursued a shoplifter and engaged in physical force to apprehend this shoplifter," the one-page notice reads. "This is a violation of Best Buy's Inappropriate Conduct Policy which states that employees are prohibited from 'pursuing shoplifters under any circumstance or using physical force to detain shoplifters' and ground for termination. Your employment with Best Buy is terminated, effective immediately."