Suspected Shoplifter's Death At Lithonia, GA Walmart Under Investigation

Nov 26, 2012

There’s not much information being released by Walmart or the DeKalb County authorities regarding the death of an alleged shoplifter.

What is known so far is that a man suspected of stealing DVD players from a Lithonia, GA, Walmart was detained and placed in a choke hold by the security guard until police officers arrived.

What happened next could mean a lengthy investigation because the man died.

In Georgia, state laws are clear and defined about the rights of retailers when it comes to dealing with shoplifters.

WABE legal analyst Page Pate says stores like Walmart have a right under Georgia to detain and briefly investigate someone they believe who is shoplifting.

". . . in other words, if [the guard and the store manager] weren't acting in self-defense, they can be culpable for murder," says WABE legal analyst Page Pate.

“There’s a statutory right and they are protected. They cannot be sued for false imprisonment or false arrest.”

However, there’s no state law that protects stores from using force.

“There is no protection for that. So anytime a retailer uses force in either apprehending someone or stopping them or detaining them for further investigation, then they’re going to be civilly liable regardless of whether the person was stealing merchandise or not.”

The police report obtained from the DeKalb Police department cites the security guard and a Walmart employee were involved in an altercation with the ‘UNKNOWN’ suspect.

The report goes on to say the alleged shoplifter was slammed to the ground by the store manager and the store security officer placed the suspect in a choke hold.

Page Pate says those actions could bring criminal charges.

“They’re going to be liable for battery, perhaps aggravated assault, perhaps aggravated battery and then murder.  Because again if the force that they used, even if they didn’t intend to kill him, if they intended to use force that resulted in his death and they were not privileged in doing so…in other words, if they weren’t acting in self-defense, they can be culpable for murder.”

Interview requests were not returned by Walmart officials.