Employees Arrested After Stopping Alleged Shoplifter

| by Sheena Vasani
Nathan Higgins, 35; Crucelis Nunez, 23; and Ruandall Tooko, 58Nathan Higgins, 35; Crucelis Nunez, 23; and Ruandall Tooko, 58

Authorities accused three Wal-Mart employees in Florida on July 28 of contributing to the death of a suspected shoplifter.

Nathan Allen Higgins, 35, Crucelis Nunez, 23, and Ruandall Eugene Tomko, 58, were charged with manslaughter in the death of Kenneth E. Wisham, 64, on Feb. 7, The Ledger reports.

Wisham reportedly tried to steal nearly $400 worth of DVDs before being chased by the Wal-Mart employees, who managed to detain him, The Huffington Post reports.

When they realized he had stopped breathing, they quickly called 911.

“Um, somebody was stealing from the store and we chased him down and we had him on the ground and we weren’t putting too much force on him and he doesn’t have a pulse now,” said the caller while on the phone with authorities.

Wisham was later hospitalized but staff could not save him.

“He died of 15 broken ribs and mechanical asphyxia ... he was unable to breathe [under] the weight, [with] them on his back holding him down,” said Lakeland Police Department Spokesperson Sgt. Gary Gross, WFLA reports.

Tomko’s attorney argues the man was simply doing his job.

“The merchant has the right to take into custody any shoplifter and detain that person for a reasonable period of time until law enforcement arrives, and that’s exactly what my client did,” said attorney Jeff Holmes.

Still, all the employees involved were taken to jail. Higgins, however, was expected to be released as he reportedly played only a small role in the incident.

“[Higgins] was commanded by his supervisor to go intervene,” his lawyer, James Franklin, said. “All he did was grab the guy’s ankles. It’s a tragedy, no question about it.”

The other suspects -- Nunez and Tomko -- are in jail on $20,000 and $30,000 bail, respectively.

Wal-Mart issued a statement to the public shortly after the incident occurred.

“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,” they said.

Sources: The Ledger, The Huffington PostWFLA / Photo credit: Lakeland Police Department via KTLA

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