Walmart Employees Charged With Manslaughter In Would-be Shoplifters Death

Three Walmart employees have been charged with manslaughter after they allegedly killed a man suspected of shoplifting. Lakeland police were called to a Walmart on North Road 98 because workers were detaining 64-year-old Kenneth Wisham, who had allegedly tried to steal $378.74 worth of DVDs from the Lakeland, Florida, Walmart.

According to WFLA, Randall Eugene Tomko, a 58-year-old loss-prevention specialist; Nathan Allen Higgins, a 35-year-old support manager; and Crucelis Nunez, a 23-year-old customer service manager, were overzealous on February 7 while holding Wisham for law enforcement.

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The Walmart employees confronted Wisham after he tripped an alarm as he attempted to walk the DVDs out of the store in a shopping cart. When confronted, he was unable to produce a receipt so he abandoned the shopping cart and ran with the workers in pursuit. During the chase, the alleged shoplifter tripped on his pants and fell to the ground where Tomko, Higgins, and Nunez held him down while the Lakeland Police were called.

While the authorities were en route, they received another call saying the suspect had stopped breathing and CPR was being administered. The first responding officer took over CPR and used an Automated External Defibrillator until EMS arrived, and Kenneth Wisham was rushed to Lakeland Regional Health in critical condition where he died later.

The decision to charge Randall Tomko, Nathan Higgins, and Crucelis Nunez with manslaughter came from the information gathered during the investigation into Kenneth Wisham’s death, said Lakeland Police Department Spokesperson Sgt. Gary Gross.

“He died of 15 broken ribs and mechanical asphyxia which, he was unable to breath the weight, them on his back holding him down.”

Walmart issued a statement Friday after the manslaughter charges against their employees were announced, reports WFLA.

“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by these events. The status of the associated involved continues to be reviewed. We’ll continue working with law enforcement officials, as we have from the beginning, while conducting our own review.”

Randall Tomko’s attorney Jeff Holms says his client was just doing his job.”The merchant has the right to take into custody a shoplifter and detain that person for a reasonable period of time until law enforcement arrives and that’s exactly what my client did.”

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According to Wayne Cole, who worked at that same Walmart for eight years, there are rules in place for loss prevention officers.

“They are still not supposed to chase them. They are supposed to go out there and try and stop them, but they are not use any kind of force at all to stop them,” Cole said. “If they get away, they leave, they are not supposed to chase them.”

The three Walmart employees have different versions of what happened to Wisham, reports the New York Daily News. The police report states that only Tomko and Crucelis Nunez chased the alleged shoplifter, but Tomko states he never touched him and when he noticed that Kenneth Wisham had stopped breathing, asked another employee to call 911.

But Nunez’s account is that after she “slightly pushed” Wisham, Randall Tomko and Nathan Higgins jumped on top of Wisham; Higgins held his legs while Tomko restrained his upper body. The position he was forced into prevented him from breathing underneath the weight of the Walmart employees.

“If you are shoplifting there is a result that you have to pay, it should not result in losing your life,” police spokesman Sgt. Gary Gross told ABC station WFTS-TV.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]