Three employees of a Lakeland Walmart store are facing manslaughter charges after an investigation into an accused shoplifter's death.

  • 3 Lakeland Walmart workers charged with manslaughter
  • Alleged shoplifter died after being detained in February
  • Autopsy showed Kenneth Wisham died of mechanical asphyxia due to restraint

On Thursday, Lakeland Police arrested Nathan Allen Higgins, 35, Crucelis Nunez, 23, and Randall Eugene Tomko, 58, and charged them with manslaughter.

Higgins is a store support manager, Nunez works as a customer service manager and Toko works in Walmart loss prevention.

The charges stem from an incident Feb. 7 at the Walmart at 5800 U.S. Highway 98 N.

According to investigators, the employees detained a shoplifter, Kenneth Edger Wisham, 64, outside the store just after 3 a.m.

Lakeland Police officers received a second call from dispatch that Wisham was in custody, not breathing and undergoing CPR. Wisham was taken to Lakeland Regional Health in critical condition. He died about 12 hours later.

The Medical Examiner's Office ruled Wisham's cause of death mechanical asphyxia due to restraint. The autopsy also revealed Wisham had 15 broken ribs.

According to court records, a witness told police she saw the woman jump on the back of the man, knocking him to the ground. The witness told police the woman then punched the man multiple times with her fist. The witness said the man had his hands over his head while the older man put a knee in his back. Higgins told investigators he held the man's ankles, according to the criminal affidavit.

"Just because this individual may have allegedly been shoplifting from Walmart doesn't mean that we have a right to take his life. It's very unfortunate circumstances that have happened," said Sgt. Gary Gross of Lakeland Police.

Detectives from the Violent Crimes Unit responded to Walmart shortly after the incident to follow up on the death investigation and got sworn statements from the witnesses.

Lakeland Police said the Walmart employees detained Wisham because they believed he stole a cart full of DVDs totaling about $380.

Wisham's family declined to do an interview and referred Bay News 9 to their lawyer.

Walmart spokesman Charles Crowson sent Bay News 9 this statement: "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.”