Four Fry's food store guards broke company policy when they detained a 65-year-old Scottsdale retiree who died after being taken into custody on suspicion of shoplifting, the man's family said after reading legal documents.
Rhona Melsky, Lawrence Melsky's daughter, called the revelation "deplorable."
"They broke every rule," she said. "If they weren't there, or if they had followed the rules, my father would be alive. It's pretty frightening."
A lawsuit filed by Melsky's family against the store and the guards is in mediation, and the family has given the Tribune their position statement. According to Fry's policy, the guards broke company rules in the Melsky incident, the family said.
The grocery chain refused to disclose their security policies after Melsky died Oct. 7 after being detained.
All the guards signed a form saying they read and understood the policy of letting shoplifting suspects flee "dangerously combative" situations.
The form, signed by all four guards two months before the incident, states: "If an incident with the suspect(s) develops into a dangerously combative situation, the Security Agent(s) should stop all efforts to detain the suspect(s) and let him/her/them go. . . . Reasonable force may be used to detain a shoplifter(s) if it is necessary to prevent injury to the suspect(s), agent(s), customer(s), employee(s), or in self-defense. . . . No physical force should be used to detain trespassers. . . . " Fry's spokesman Jim Nygren would not comment. Fry's attorney Greg Fairbourn said he was disappointed the documents were leaked to the press.
"We're not going to try this case in the newspaper," Fairbourn said. "The mediation process is supposed to be confidential. We're disappointed that this has not been kept confidential."
According to police reports, Melsky entered the store On the evening of Oct. 5, concealed bread and ice cream in an empty Fry's bag and attempted to leave. Hiding an item while in a store is considered shoplifting under Arizona law. When Melsky saw the guards, he returned the ice cream and started to leave again. He went back into the store, put the bread back on a shelf and tried to leave again, the reports said.
The guards confronted Melsky as he attempted to leave a third time without any store items. Two of the four guards handcuffed Melsky and led him to an office in the front of the store.
“He fought, fought and fought the whole way,” security guard John Vansice told police.
“He was never throwing punches or anything like that, but he was trying to flee,” guard Thomas Roden told police.
Both guards struggled with the handcuffed Melsky in the hallway and said he fell and hit his head on a door frame and wall after breaking free.
Melsky's death was "violent," the medical examiner's report said. The hallway scuffle left him with two scalp lacerations, scrapes on his face and arm, a knocked-out tooth and "massive" brain swelling, according to the report. He died from head injuries Oct. 7.
In December, the county medical examiner declared Melsky's death accidental.
Scottsdale police said they believe the retired insurance broker's death was caused by his struggle with the guards.
The Melsky family's attorney would not comment.
"Given the ongoing mediation, and with respect to documents that are not part of the public record, I probably should not comment," Michael Poli said.
Fry's said Melsky's fatal injuries "were caused entirely by his own actions," according to a complaint filed in December in Maricopa County Superior Court.
The grocery chain also alleges that Melsky "resisted detention, was combative and cursed and yelled when detained by Fry's loss prevention agents."
Three of the guards' attorneys did not return phone calls to the Tribune. Michael Black, attorney for Vansice, said he would not speak about the policy acknowledgment form his client signed.