Lakeland police have arrested and charged three Walmart employees with manslaughter in the February death of a shoplifter.
Police said just after 3 a.m. Feb. 7, a 64-year-old man stole nearly $400 worth of DVDs and ran when he was confronted by employees.
The employees chased him down and at some point, the man fell to the ground and was held there by the employees.
The man stopped breathing and the employees called 911. He was transported to the hospital in critical condition, but later died.
During an investigation, the Medical Examiner determined the man died of mechanical asphyxia due to restraint and that the man had 15 broken ribs.
The three Walmart employees charged were a 35-year-old support manager, a 23-year-old customer service manager, and 58-year-old employee for loss prevention.
Walmart issued a statement Friday afternoon:
Our hearts go out to everyone affected by these events. The status of the associates involved continues to be reviewed. We’ll continue working with law enforcement officials, as we have from the beginning, while conducting our own review.
If it can be demonstrated that Walmart’s employees used an unreasonable amount of force, or acted unreasonably in detaining the suspected shoplifter, they could face liability for wrongful death and even false imprisonment in a lawsuit by the deceased man’s relatives.
Employers must be cautious about what their employees do in regards to shoplifters because employers may be legally responsible for the harm caused by their employees’ actions. Customers, including shoplifters, may be able to hold the employer liable when they suffer injuries or are harmed by employees or wrongfully detained by employees for suspicion of shoplifting.
As this case shows, it is possible to hold the employee’s legally responsible for their actions, but usually employers are the target of lawsuits because they have bigger insurance policies than their employees, which means if they are successful in proving their claim, they will receive a larger financial settlement.