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Three employees at a Florida Walmart have been charged in the death of an attempted shoplifter who tried to make off with $380 in DVDs.
Officers were called to the Walmart at 3:05 a.m. on Feb. 7 after Kenneth Wisham loaded a shopping cart full of discs and tried to leave the store, according to the Lakeland Police Department. When employees confronted him, Wisham fled.
The 64-year-old, hampered by the need to keep pulling up his pants because they were falling down, didn't get far, police said. Affidavits say he fell and then was aggressively pinned down by the three employees: Nathan Higgins, 35, Crucelis Nunez, 23, and Randall Toko, 58.
According to the arrest reports, a witness saw a female employee jump on Wisham's back, knocking him to the ground before punching him multiple times as Wisham held his hands over his head. Then another employee kneed him in the back, the witness said. The third held Wisham by his ankles, a store manager who also witnessed the incident told police.
"The victim struggled for several minutes, and then ceased struggling," said the affidavit for Higgins. Higgins told police he heard Wisham yelling "Let me go, let me go!" and then he released his hands from his ankles, the document said.
Nunez told police Wisham also shouted, "I can't breathe," according to her affidavit.
With officers already en route, the employees began CPR and called for an ambulance, police said. The first officer to arrive "began life saving measures to include using an Automated External Defibrillator and taking over CPR until EMS arrived," the Lakeland Police Department said, and then Wisham was transported to the hospital in critical condition.
A little over 12 hours later, he died.
Higgins, a Walmart support manager, Nunez, a customer service manager, and Toko, who works in the store's loss prevention unit, were arrested last week based on a medical examiner's findings, which determined the cause of death was mechanical asphyxia — strangling or choking by hand. The autopsy also revealed Wisham had 15 broken ribs.
Each employee faces one manslaughter charge. They were arrested on Thursday and appeared before a judge Friday. According to James "Rusty" Franklin, the attorney for Higgins, all three have bonded out of jail.
Higgins filed a written plea of not guilty, Franklin told NBC News. The other defendants' attorneys could not be reached.
Charles Crowson, Walmart senior manager of corporate communications, told NBC News the employees have been suspended and said in a statement that the company was reviewing the incident.
“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.”
Wisham was a resident of Lakeland, a city about 35 miles east of Tampa.