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Florida man seriously injured and unable to speak after encounter with police, daughter says

Anjelica Lee said police were called to a Save A Lot store in Lakeland after her father was falsely accused of stealing a banana.
Joseph Lee in a hospital bed.
Joseph Lee in a hospital bed.Courtesy Anjelica Lee

A woman in Florida says her 55-year-old “medically fragile” father was falsely accused of theft at a Florida grocery store last week and then seriously injured in a violent encounter with police. Now, she says, he is hospitalized and has lost the ability to speak.

The incident occurred about 8 p.m. Tuesday at a Save A Lot in Lakeland, according to an arrest report and the man’s daughter, Anjelica Lee, who spoke with her father before his condition worsened.

She said she was doing laundry at a laundromat near the Save A Lot with her father, Joseph Lee, when his arms and legs began to cramp up from an infection. He walked a couple of doors down into the Save A Lot grocery store to get some bananas because potassium would help relieve the cramping, she said.

She said he told her that he picked up four bananas, one of which he ate on the way to the register, and that he told the cashier that he needed to pay for four bananas even though she scanned only three. Anjelica Lee said her father told her he was followed closely while he was shopping by a white female employee, who, she said, accused him of stealing the banana he ate.

He told the woman that he had not stolen anything and that he had paid for four bananas, but she followed him outside and continued to falsely accuse him of stealing, Anjelica Lee said her father told her. When she noticed the commotion, she said, she confronted the woman.

“At first, I was trying to ask her what happened, and she was like, ‘People like you and him shouldn’t come into the store if you don’t have money to pay for things,’” Anjelica Lee said. “My mom is white, and my dad is Black. So I’m mixed. So I think she meant Black people. And it just escalated from that, and she went to cussing me out.”

She said she feared for her father’s safety, so she got a bat from her car, approached the woman and told her to “pick on someone her own size, someone able-bodied.” She said she did not threaten the woman with the bat. Still, she said, the woman called police.

Eight cars responded with six officers and two sergeants, a police spokesperson said. When they arrived, Angelica Lee said, she was sitting in the driver’s side of her car with the door open and her father was standing outside the vehicle as they waited for her laundry to dry.

“The police got out with their guns drawn, repeatedly saying, ‘Get out of the effin’ car,’” Anjelica Lee said. “My dad said to me: ‘Don’t get out of the car until they can fully see you, because they’re going to shoot.’ And after he said that, nine or 10 of them jumped on him, and then they slammed him on the car.”

She said she could hear her father screaming: “You’re hurting me. I can’t breathe.”

“After that, I stepped out of the car, because the police were on the driver’s side,” she said. “They told me to shut the f--- up. Handcuffed me. Put me in the back of the car, and as they were driving me away, my dad was no longer on the sidewalk.”

She said that she could see him lying in the middle of the road and that several officers were on him. “And as they’re driving me away, the last thing I heard was my dad screaming: ‘Help, help. I can’t breathe. You’re hurting me,’” she said through tears.

A separate affidavit says that when officers arrived, Joseph Lee was standing outside the store, directly in front of the vehicle his daughter was in. The affidavit quotes police as saying that Joseph Lee was asked “multiple times to step away from the vehicle as he was interfering with the officers’ investigation” but that he refused and allegedly told police, “I’m on a sidewalk.” He was then detained, according to the affidavit, which says he was arrested on a charge of resisting officers without violence. He was issued a notice to appear at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 29.

A police spokesperson said Monday that after Joseph Lee was placed in the backseat of a patrol car, at some point he began to complain of chest pain and requested medical assistance because of a “previous medical condition.” The spokesperson said that officers “quickly called for medical assistance” and that first responders arrived within a few minutes.

Joseph Lee with his daughter, Anjelica Lee.
Joseph Lee with his daughter, Anjelica Lee.Anjelica Lee

The spokesperson said he was “alert and responsive” when an ambulance arrived.

Anjelica Lee said her father, who already had a pacemaker, sustained an acute kidney injury in the encounter and is undergoing dialysis. She also said he can barely talk and is disoriented and confused. “He’s waking up panicked,” she said. “He doesn’t know where he’s at. He can no longer feed himself. We have to do that for him. They’re saying that some of the injuries could be long-term.”

She shared photographs of her father in the hospital with NBC News but has not been able to make medical records on his condition available. 

“My dad could have died in the parking lot,” she said, her voice breaking.

She was arrested on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery on a law enforcement officer, according to the arrest report obtained by NBC News. She said that she does not recall hitting anyone and that she is trying to obtain security video from the Save A Lot, as well as police body camera video, to prove so. She has not yet retained an attorney. Her next court hearing is Feb. 27. A police spokesperson said Monday that the body camera video would not be released until the cases are resolved.

Her arrest affidavit says police responded Tuesday night to a report of a female armed with a bat causing a disturbance inside a store, alongside a male subject.

According to the arrest report, an officer “gave a lawful command” to Joseph Lee and he ignored it. When an officer moved in to detain him, the arrest report says, Anjelica Lee approached an officer and “stuck him in the arm against his will.”

She was then detained, according to the affidavit, which says the woman who called 911 told police that “after an incident with Joseph inside the store,” she encountered Anjelica Lee waiting outside with a metal bat in her hand. The woman told police that Anjelica Lee, while holding the bat, had told her to “clock out cause I’m gonna whoop your ass,” according to the affidavit. Anjelica Lee said she remembers telling the woman to meet her outside but not saying that. 

Afterward, the affidavit says, Anjelica Lee put the bat back into her car, went inside the store and knocked items off the shelves. She denies having done so. The woman told police she “was placed in a well-founded fear that” Anjelica Lee was going to cause her harm while she was holding the bat outside the store, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit says Anjelica Lee told police she got her bat out of the car because her father told her that the store employee had put her hands on him. Anjelica Lee is alleged to have told a police officer that the employee was “talking junk” and admitted to threatening her with the bat, according to the affidavit. Calls to the telephone numbers listed in public records for the employee named in the police report went unreturned Monday.

Lakeland is a city in Polk County, about 45 minutes from Tampa and less than an hour from Orlando. It has a population of about 120,000 people, about 65% of whom are white and 20% of whom are Black.

An assistant manager at the Save A Lot declined to comment when reached by phone Monday and referred NBC News to the store’s corporate office.

Save A Lot spokesperson Sarah Griffin said in a statement that the store is “aware of a confrontation between customers and store team members” at the Lakeland store last Tuesday. “The local owner/operator of the store is working with local authorities and the store team to investigate the incident,” Griffin said.