Paper: Houston Chronicle Date: SAT 05/26/01 Section: A Page: 28 Edition: 3 STAR
No Charges in Shoplifting Fatality
Associated Press DETROIT -
A security guard and a drugstore employee will not face charges in their deadly scuffle with an accused shoplifter because the woman strongly resisted the arrest, prosecutors said Friday.
Alwanda Gail Person-Jackson escaped from handcuffs and tackled a security guard before she was hogtied and someone sat on her back, the government said.
"It was a fairly forceful, if not violent, struggle," said Douglas Baker of the prosecutor's office.
But attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who is suing Rite Aid on behalf of Person-Jackson's family, said that did not justify the force that was used.
"You don't get to murder people you accuse of shoplifting - period," Fieger said.
A medical examiner has called Person-Jackson's April 6 death a homicide.
Police said the 36-year-old woman was trying to leave the Detroit drugstore with $200 worth of merchandise. She was dragged inside and handcuffed with plastic restraints but broke free. A witness said a worker then sat on her until she went limp.
Baker wrote in a memo that Person-Jackson had three chances to give up her struggle before she was hogtied.
Dr. Sawait Kanluen, Wayne County's chief medical examiner, said Person-Jackson had taken cocaine and about a half-dozen other drugs, which may have contributed to her death.
Prosecutor Michael Duggan said his office investigated the case for a month. "There's no basis for bringing criminal action against anyone," he said.
"Store owners have the right to detain shoplifters," but, he added, "I'm appalled at how little training security guards get in terms of restraint training."
Person-Jackson was the third suspected shoplifter in 10 months to die in the Detroit area after scuffles with security guards. Her death sparked protests, and her family sued the drugstore.
Wait! There is more
to the story!
Another Detroit shopper killed in confrontation
with security guard
By Larry Roberts
10 April 2001
At around 9 a.m. Friday morning,
April 6, Alwanda Gail Person-Jackson died following a scuffle with store
guards at a Rite Aid pharmacy in Detroit. This was the fourth instance in
less than a year that a working class Detroit resident has died following
a confrontation with security guards, and this latest incident is the
second violent attack on a customer at a Rite Aid store in the last two
The growing danger of violence and death at the hands of
security guards, one of the fastest growing low-wage job sectors to
develop over the past decade, has become a cause of growing concern in
Detroit, which remains one of the largest poor cities in the US.
Ms. Jackson, known
to her family and friends as Gail, was 36 years old, married and the
mother of two daughters. She allegedly walked out of a Rite Aid pharmacy
on the city's east side with a basket full of cheap cigars and hair
products without paying. Detroit Homicide Detective William Rice reported
that a female security guard ran out to the parking lot to stop
Person-Jackson from getting into her van. The guard was reportedly
assisted by a male cashier. According to the detective's account, after a
struggle the two company employees dragged Person-Jackson back into the
store. Once Ms. Jackson was inside the store she continued to resist and
the male manager of the store joined the other two employees in subduing
Jackson and handcuffing her, according to Rice.
The detective said a witness told him that when
Person-Jackson continued to resist, this time freeing her hands from the
cuffs, one of the employees sat on the suspect and her body went limp.
Attempts to resuscitate Jackson failed and she was taken by ambulance to
Initial reports of the April 7 autopsy performed on
Person-Jackson did not indicate the immediate cause of death and a full
report is expected to take another two weeks. No one has so far been
charged with criminal misconduct in her death.
Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing the
Jackson family, contends Person-Jackson was dragged from her car and tied
up with an electrical extension cord once the guard and other employees
were inside the store.
Fieger stated he planned to file a $1 billion lawsuit
against Rite Aid. Fieger is also the attorney for three other victims of
security-guard violence, including Travis Shelton, 38, killed at a Kroger
supermarket on February 8; Gail Hardy, hit over the head by a Rite-Aid
security guard, also in February; and Fredrick Finley, 32, killed in a
Lord & Taylor parking lot in suburban Dearborn on June 22 of last
Family members and friends were stunned by Gail's sudden
death. Her husband, Michael Jackson, said his wife suffered from diabetes
and had operations on both knees following a car accident in 1997. He said
often the pain in her knees became so intense, “Some days we had to
carry her around on our back.” Mr. Jackson said he was surprised at the
charge of shoplifting because the family did not have financial problems.
At a press conference called by Geoffrey Fieger and
Person-Jackson's family, Fieger commented, “Contrary to Rite Aid,
merchandise is not more valuable than human life.” Fieger contends that
Person-Jackson was dragged out of her van by a female security guard and a
male cashier, taken into the Rite Aid store and hog-tied with an
electrical extension cord. Once Mrs. Jackson was in the store and
continued resisting one of the employees sat on her and “suffocated”
her to death, according to Fieger.
Michael Jackson spoke with
outrage at the press conference on the sudden death of his spouse. “The
only thing people realize is someone was stealing, and they died. But no
one was ever investigated. None of these people have any training. Do you
call training tying people up with extension cords?”
Jackson said his wife had her problems, but she was a
good wife and mother. “I just want to know why, why? There's a guy, a
Republican, saying this is right, they are protecting themselves,”
“This is becoming
an epidemic,” said Rev. Horace Sheffield III, head of the Detroit
chapter of Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN). “It has gotten
totally out of hand.” Sheffield has also been involved in protests
against the deaths of Travis Shelton and Frederick Finley.
Forgotten by the media, and never mentioned by the
National Action Network, is the case of 43-year-old Gloria Teresa Terrell,
who died following a confrontation with security guards last May 31. Ms.
Terrell, an unemployed single mother of five, was caught shoplifting a
pair of shoes worth only a few dollars at a Value Village second-hand
store in an impoverished area of Detroit. Despite offers by other
customers in the store to pay for Terrell's items, security guards
allegedly threatened to send her to jail for the theft. Terrell jumped
into a trash compactor to hide from the guards and was subsequently
crushed to death.
charges in the death of Travis Shelton
In a related development, Oakland County Prosecutor
David Gorcyca has rejected any consideration of criminal charges against
the two Kroger security guards responsible for the death of Travis
Shelton. According to Gorcyca, the two guards used appropriate force in
the struggle with Shelton and Shelton was responsible for his own death.
Even though the Oakland County medical examiner ruled
that Shelton's death was a homicide, due to asphyxiation by compression
caused by the guard sitting on Shelton's back while he lay face-down,
Gorcyca said Shelton died of asphyxiation complicated by drug use and an
enlarged heart. “Mr. Shelton's own actions killed him,” stated Gorcyca.
“It wasn't anything the security guards did.”
Gorcyca claimed he considered the accounts of four
witnesses before he decided not to prosecute. He discounted the testimony
of firefighter Sylvester Foote, who assisted the security guards by
pinning down Shelton's arms. Foote said he heard Shelton say, “I can't
breathe” while guard Jason Clover sat on Shelton's back. Clover, 21
years old and 377 pounds, weighed over 100 pounds more than Shelton, who
weighed about 260 pounds. Contradicting Foote's account, Gorcyca claimed
witnesses told him Clover sat on Shelton's thighs, not his back. He stated
Shelton died from his overweight belly blocking his air passage, and not
the action of the guards. Under questioning, Gorcyca admitted that none of
the other witnesses were close enough to hear Shelton except Foote, the
two guards and another company employee.
Another witness not cited by Gorcyca was Joanette Quinn,
a customer at the store who described in vivid detail the aggressive
behavior of the security guards. At an earlier press conference, Quinn
said that the guards knew Shelton and were waiting for him to advance
toward the door so that they could attack him. Quinn said Shelton cowed
before the two guards who choked him and then pulled his legs from under
him so that the back of his head hit the floor. She said the heavier guard
then sat on him for 10 minutes before the police came and noticed that he
The continued trend of violence by security guards has
led several Michigan state legislators, Democrat and Republican, to call
for the training of security guards in procedures for the arrest and
detention of suspected shoplifters. These same politicians have often been
the proponents of the “tough on crime” policy that has promoted a
climate that dehumanizes the poor, especially those involved in petty or
nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting.
The brutality exemplified by the security guards
involved in these attacks has been shaped by years of right-wing
propaganda that says that criminals are responsible for crime, and that
the solution is to lock up more and more people.
(Editor's Note: for another point
of view on the
Detroit Shoplifter Lawsuit,