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Beaten to Death for Shoplifting

MARIETTA, Ga. (CN) - A woman claims that a "mob" of Wal-Mart employees beat her son to death for suspicion of shoplifting.

Louise Rankin sued Wal-Mart Stores and six people for the wrongful death of her 38-year-old son, Marty Jerome Bridges, at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Dunwoody, on Dec. 19, 2009.

Rankin says the "DeKalb County Medical Examiner ruled that Marty Jerome Bridges' death was a homicide."

She claims store employees and customers pinned him facedown, beat him, sat on his chest and held his head in a headlock, while his legs jerked in spasms and he "plead[ed] and screamed for the group of Wal-Mart employees and the Wal-Mart patrons to get off of him until his last breath."

She adds: "the degree of force used by the Wal-Mart employees either individually or as a group was inappropriate and excessive," and was "the proximate cause of death and unnecessary."

According to her complaint in Cobb County Court, her son was looking at sporting goods, then stuffed several items in the front pockets of his hooded sweatshirt and walked toward the cash registers.

She claims defendant Kieon Winston, a loss prevention specialist, "engaged the victim ... not once but twice. The second engagement resulted in the homicide".

She claims Winston "did not stop fellow employees from physically attacking, sitting on, holding down, or holding the victim's head in a headlock," and that he "created a mob mentality, which drew pedestrians into the fray."

She claims Winston also slammed her son into a wall.

Rankin says defendant Wal-Mart employees Paul Wilson and Brannon Boutte joined in physically restraining and holding her son down.

When her son broke free and tried to get up, he was pushed and "fell against an elderly lady," Rankin says.

He ran toward the front door, and a group of more than six employees and a Wal-Mart shopper knocked him down and attacked him again, his mother says.

She says this time defendant shopper Jason Harneck joined the employees who were holding her son facedown. "He proceeded to grab hold of Mr. Bridges' head and hold his head in a headlock. He later switched holds with a Wal-Mart employee," the complaint states.

It continues: "The victim, Marty Jerome Bridges, was injured and died of those injuries sustained as a result of the physical violence of this mob.

"The victim, Marty Jerome Bridges, was pleading and yelling for these persons to stop beating him and to get off of him. He was aware that he could not breathe as his chest and torso were being crushed."

She claims defendant Wal-Mart manager Souphana Funkhouser watched the attack and did little or nothing to stop it, though she realized that Bridges was struggling to breathe.

"Respondent, Funkhouser did not take control of the situation which could have lead to the victim Marty Jerome Bridges' life being saved," the mother says. "... After the physical damage was done to victim Marty Jerome Bridges, respondent Funkhouser told the employees to get off as they had too much weight on the victim ... . This was the extent of her assisting victim Marty Jerome Bridges."

She adds: "The Wal-Mart Inc. management team and Loss Prevention Officer worked the employees and store invitees into a frenzy, and it became a mob mentality on who would get to hit, beat, or hold victim, Marty Jerome Bridges as perpetrators took turns."

Rankin says her son was unresponsive when police arrived, and that he was taken to Northside Hospital, where he died without regaining consciousness.

"The second attack rose to intentional misconduct and jointly and severally by the respondent(s) exhibited prior to succumbing to the intense weight and pressure on his torso, which resulted in his death," the mother says.

Rankin says her son was not on drugs or alcohol, did not have any weapons, and "did not strike his assailants, but only sought to get free of the aggressors that pursued him."

She seeks at least $15 million in punitive damages for wrongful death, the tort of homicide, negligence, reckless conduct, pain and suffering and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"The over aggressive actions of the Wal-Mart employees are a product of the kind of training and lack of appropriate training received by the respondents," the complaint states.

"Respondents' actions went beyond mere negligence, the intentional nature of their actions attacking a man for the second time who was believed to be committing a nonviolent crime is beyond the bounds of negligence, past gross negligence and reaches to intentional tort."

Rankin is represented by Rhonda Breaux Kunkle of Marietta.

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