Authorities say they don’t know why a 21-year-old shoplifting suspect died just hours after he was captured by Forest Park police.
Officers were called a little after 5 p.m. Wednesday to Citi Trends on Jonesboro Road after employees said they observed Latiff Sanogo Stephens stealing clothes.
The two responding officers attempted to arrest Stephens, of Atlanta, but the heavyset suspect escaped following a brief struggle.
Stephens’ wife, Quasha Harris, said her husband had accompanied her to Citi Trends but that she shopped alone.
“I came out of the store and I saw the police talking to him outside of my car,” said Harris, 24. She said she didn’t want to get involved and resumed shopping for another 15 to 20 minutes.
“People told me police beat him up,” she said.
“There was a physical altercation,” said Forest Park Police spokesman Chris Matson, acknowledging a scuffle. One of the officers apparently got the worst of the tussle, injuring his shoulder. He was unable to join in the pursuit of Stephens, Matson said, and will require surgery.
The suspect fled about a quarter mile before the remaining officer found him hiding in a dumpster. Stephens was arrested without incident, Matson said.
As they returned to Citi Trends, Stephens told the officer he was having trouble breathing. Emergency personnel were called to the scene. Soon after they arrived, Stephens lost consciousness and was transported to Southern Regional Medical Center, where he died roughly 11 hours later, at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Stephens’ wife said she does not believe the officers’ account, though she did not see her husband until after he was transported to the hospital.
“People who were there said he wasn’t responding when they came back with him,” Harris said. Stephens suffered from asthma but maintained a vigorous lifestyle, his wife said, playing basketball and softball.
“This doesn’t add up,” she said.
Matson said no tasers or billy clubs were used to apprehend Stephens.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has started their own inquiry into Stephens’ capture and death.
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