The Milwaukee County district attorney's office is reviewing the death of a Nathan Hale High School student who stopped breathing after getting restrained for allegedly trying to shoplift at a West Allis convenience store.
Customers at the store restrained Corey Stingley, 16, outside VJ's Food Mart, 9206 W. Schlinger Ave., on Dec. 14, police said.
Police and paramedics revived him, and doctors at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa later determined that Stingley had suffered major brain damage, according to medical updates posted by Stingley's family.
Stingley died Saturday.
"It's unfortunate. Nobody should die over a shoplifting incident," said acting West Allis Police Chief Charles Padgett. He added: "It's unusual and tragic for everyone involved."
After the incident the three customers were taken into custody for questioning and one of them was referred to the district attorney's office on suspicion of causing injury, the chief said.
The department referred the one case but anticipated the DA's office would review the conduct of all the people involved, Padgett said.
Padgett did not identify Stingley, but his family confirmed that he was the youth involved in the incident. Stingley was a running back on Hale's varsity football team, and also ran track, said Brian Vissers, a spokesman for the school district.
The police chief gave this account based on witness interviews and reports by the officers:
The three adult male customers confronted Stingley inside the store after Stingley reportedly attempted to put several alcohol items in a school backpack.
A "tussle" broke out, with Stingley resisting the men, and the confrontation continued outside. Surveillance video cameras captured the incident inside the store but not outside.
West Allis police were called at some point, and officers were surprised to arrive at the shoplifting call about 4 p.m. to find Stingley being restrained by the trio. Officers initially handcuffed the teen but removed the cuffs and began CPR after realizing he was not breathing, Padgett said.
After police and fire personnel revived him, Stingley was transported to Froedtert, where he was on life-support equipment until his death.
Investigators are still sorting out the exact sequence of events inside the store. At one point it appears Stingley returned the items to the store clerk's counter after being confronted, Padgett said.
Padgett declined to talk about what method of restraint was used by the men, citing the ongoing investigation.
He called the legal issues "complicated."
People have the right to make a citizen's arrest in such a situation and can restrain a suspect, but they have to be aware of what impact their actions are having, Padgett said.
"There is a line you can't cross," he said, emphasizing that he does not know whether that line was crossed. That will be up to the DA's office to decide, the chief said.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams, the chief homicide prosecutor, said his unit got the case Wednesday but predicted it would take days of review before any charging decisions were made.
The Journal Sentinel requested copies of police reports and the videotaped evidence under the state's open records law, but police said they would be withheld because the case is still under investigation. The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office would not release its report on the death, at the request of the West Allis police. A spokeswoman said an autopsy had been completed but no cause of death had yet been determined.
A CaringBridge website set up by Stingley's family - visited more than 6,000 times - said he did not survive the brain injuries he sustained. The family referred the Journal Sentinel to the site.
"Corey was a special young man with many gifts and talents who loved life and shared his energy with all," the site says. "Corey was a treasured son, brother, nephew, friend and teammate who will certainly be missed and will remain with us in spirit, which he had an abundance of, for living life to the maximum."
The site says he was critically injured in an incident that followed a "misunderstanding" at the store. It added that "the three individuals responsible for his injuries were arrested with criminal charges pending."
At West Allis Hale, the principal announced Stingley's death on Wednesday, Vissers said. Counselors were made available, he said, but most of Stingley's friends had already known about his death for a few days and had time to process it. He said the school agreed to supply Stingley's Hale Huskies football jersey to his family.
Services for Stingley are set for Saturday at Parklawn Assembly of God Church, 3725 N. Sherman Blvd., Milwaukee, according to the CaringBridge site. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to noon, with the service at noon.
Jesse Garza of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
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