Mall Security Officer Admits Shooting Suspected Shoplifter

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - A former Alexandria policeman has admitted shooting a woman he thought might be a shoplifter as she drove from a mall.

Vennie Powell Jr., 33, was fired in September 2002, a month after he shot Sherry Pennington of Marksville. He will be sentenced Feb. 1 on three counts of illegal use of a weapon.

Since that is a felony, he cannot own or use a firearm. He could get up to six years in prison, Rapides Parish Assistant District Attorney Tom Walsh said.

Powell shot at Pennington's vehicle as she drove away in August 2002. She was hit in the back and arm; her son and teenage sister, also were in the vehicle, were not hurt.

Pennington - who was never arrested - has sued Powell, the city of Alexandria, the Alexandria Mall and Dillard's. Walsh said the shoplifting allegation has not been settled.

The shooting was supposed to go before a grand jury on Thursday, but instead charges were filed against Powell, who pleaded guilty Friday.

He was doing off-duty security work at the Alexandria Mall when he was told that Pennington might be a shoplifter.

Powell said he attempted to get Pennington out of her car for questioning, but she refused and tried to run over him, he said. He was injured in the incident.

Pennington did not testify at Powell's civil service hearing, but her son testified that she did not try to run over Powell. The son also said Powell pointed his gun at them and shot into the vehicle as they drove away.

Powell confiscated a civilian's vehicle to chase Pennington.

Walsh said the incident "appears to be a tragic mistake" made by Powell, who was released on $3,000 bond.