Shoplifting arrest sparks excessive-force allegations, investigation

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

BUCKEYE, Ariz. -- The man taken down by police for allegedly shoplifting at a Walmart Black Friday sale is fighting back and the officer who arrested him reportedly is on paid administrative lead.

Cellphone video of Jerald Newman's arrest made national headlines over the weekend.

While he says Officer Kevin Rorke of the Buckeye Police Department used excessive force, Rorke said Newman was resisting arrest for alleged shoplifting.

This all happened on Thanksgiving night when Newman, 54, and his grandson were shopping at the crowded Walmart at Southern Avenue and Watson Road in Buckeye.

According to police, a Walmart employee saw Newman hide a video game under his shirt and flagged down Rorke, pointing out Newman as an alleged shoplifter.

Rorke said Newman resisted arrest when he tried to handcuff him. At that point, Rorke reportedly used a leg sweep to take Newman down. The 54-year-old's head slammed into the ground. Cellphone video showed an apparently unconscious Newman with a bloody face.

Several of the video clips captured inside the store were posted online and have racking up hits, drawing national attention.

While police say Newman was trying to steal the video game and claim to have witnesses to that effect, Newman's family says that absolutely wasn't the case. They say Newman merely tucked the game into his waistband so he would have both hands free to protect his grandson from a crowd that was quickly getting out of hand.

"I only got one game and people were trying to take it away from me so he grabbed it and put it under his shirt so no one would take it," explained Nick Nara, Newman's grandson. "He was also keeping me safe."

Newman's family also said he is hard of hearing and might not have understood what the officer was telling him.

The Buckeye Police Department is standing behind Rorke's actions.

"There are witnesses that are reporting our officer did everything they could to control the suspect," said Buckeye Police Chief Mark Mann.

Newman was charged with shoplifting and resisting arrest. He has been released from jail on a $900 bond. It's not yet clear if the Maricopa County Attorney's Office will pursue a case against Newman.

According to Arizona law, deliberately concealing an item for sale is considered shoplifting even if the person concealing the item has not left the store.

The Department of Public Safety is investigating the case and the allegations of excessive force on the part of the arresting officer.

Rorke, a seven-year veteran officer, has been placed on paid administrative leave until DPS wraps up its investigation.

The Nolan Law Firm, which is representing Newman, insists that Rorke used "unreasonable and excessive" force.

"We have received an outpouring of support for this hard-of-hearing grandfather who did nothing other than try to protect his grandson from being trampled during a holiday sale display opening at Walmart on Black Friday when hordes of people were rushing the area," attorneys said in a news release.

The firm has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon. Information from that news conference will be updated as is becomes available.