EXCLUSIVE: Witness Alleges Deadly Excessive Force by Kmart Loss Prevention

By Tom O’Connell

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., May 11, 2016 – A week after she witnessed the death of a suspected shoplifter while he was being forcefully detained by Kmart loss prevention officers, Chantel Trujillo is still shaken up, her voice cracking and her eyes moist as she describes standing there helplessly as the life left young Jonathan Sorensen.

Trujillo was at the Kmart at Carlisle and Indian School to shop for tennis shoes with her mom at 4:30 p.m. on May 3 when they stumbled upon a struggle between Sorensen and store security. But she says the only struggle from Sorensen was a struggle to stay alive.

Kmart employees in chaos following death of Sorensen
Kmart employees in chaos following death of Sorensen

‘He wanted water’

Trujillo says the way the three loss-prevention officers were holding Sorensen, facedown and handcuffed as he screamed for help, made her fear the 25-year-old would not survive the encounter. She should know, since she works with kids with severe behavioral issues, and is trained in TCI, or therapeutic crisis intervention, and knows how to restrain people without cutting off their airway.

“He was saying he wanted water,” says Trujillo, 28. “He said he’s sorry and I’m scared, and that’s the last thing he said. They were screaming at him as if he had killed somebody. They were on top of him for easily 20 minutes. When the cop got there and told them to get off him, we saw he was soiled.” Sorensen had lost control of his bladder and bowels during the struggle.

Trujillo says she knows exactly how long the guards were on top of him because she was keeping track on her phone.

“I do that at work because of my job,” she says. “You’re not supposed to cut off their breathing. Any legal restraint is holding down their legs in a way that doesn’t cut off their breathing.”

Trujillo can’t get Sorensen’s voice out of her mind; before it finally went silent, the voice begged for help as a female officer held his legs and screamed at him to be quiet or he’d “get it even worse.”

Young guard ‘looked like a ghost’

The most shocking thing about the whole episode, Trujillo says, was how “calm and collected” and “nonchalant” two of the three security guards seemed to be after they finally got up off Sorensen’s lifeless body. But the youngest of the three guards, who looked 19 or 20, was visibly shaken, and said something curious into his cell phone just before an Albuquerque Police Department officer told him to put his phone down.

“Whatever you can do to bail me out…” she reports hearing him say. He was drenched in sweat, as if he’d just run a marathon.

“He looked like a ghost,” she says.

As Trujillo sat with her mom waiting to be interviewed by investigators near the jewelry counter, the young man sat near her. She said he’d been the guard kneeling closest to Sorensen’s head and holding down his upper body as he died.

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‘Shit, this guy is dead’

Trujillo suspects his actions are primarily what led to Sorensen’s death, and says she could see in his eyes that he suspected that too.

“I felt that was him realizing, shit, this guy is dead,” she says. “He looked freaked out. That kid showed it to me in his face, they had to have known. It was at a point where I could tell they were just waiting for the police to show up.”

Trujillo even asked the guard if he could feel Sorensen’s breathing stop as he held him down, but he didn’t answer her.

“The other security guards were walking around like they were in charge, like nothing out of the ordinary happened,” she says. “Only the kid showed empathy and sadness.”

Security hid body with carts

A two-minute cellphone video Trujillo shot begins after APD and EMS have arrived. The loss prevention employees are milling around, and you can hear someone say, “Hey, we need something to clean that up, I don’t care what it is.” An employee grabs a brand-new towel off a rack and hands it off to someone, apparently to sop up the urine and feces from Sorensen’s body.

Amidst the chaos, store employees tell Trujillo to stop filming and to leave the store, but she stands her ground, refuting employees’ claims that the guards were on top of Sorensen for only five minutes—a claim that she says seemed to come automatically like a mantra out of more than one employee’s mouth.

Then the video shows workers placing themselves in front of the body, and then positioning carts in front of it.

“The way it was handled was like a cover-up,” says Trujillo.

‘Overwhelming guilt’

The worst thing Chantel Trujillo says she feels is “overwhelming guilt” for her helplessness as the purportedly schizophrenic 25-year-old UNM student lay dying.

“I’m angry and heartbroken because that didn’t need to happen,” she says. “I feel overwhelming guilt because I’m not the kind of person to stand there and do nothing, to stand there and watch something like that happen. My mom said, ‘Is he even breathing?’ and they kept wailing at him.

“I’m pissed because I got scared, I could tell he was having a hard time breathing. Why I didn’t do something about it, I’ll never know.”

Whether or not the loss prevention officers violated store policy and Sorensen’s basic human rights should be revealed at some point by security cameras. Burque Media will follow the story and report findings from our many public records requests as we receive them.