The Valdosta Daily Times
A shoplifting case Saturday turned into a struggle with police at a Valdosta store, an off-duty officer suffering an injury, dozens of customers feeling the after-effects of pepper spray, and an attempted escape by the offender as he kicked out the window of a patrol car on the way to jail.
At 4:17 p.m. Saturday, Valdosta police received a call regarding a shoplifting in progress at Walmart, 3274 Inner Perimeter Road, said Valdosta Police Cmdr. Brian Childress. Store security witnessed a man take a computer and video games from the electronics department.
Off-duty Valdosta Police Officer Alvin May was shopping in the store with his family, Childress said. He assisted store security as they approached the suspect and escorted him to the security station near the front of Walmart’s right side, grocery-area entrance.
An on-duty, uniformed Valdosta police officer arrived at the scene and entered the Walmart. Inside the security area, authorities discovered the video-game equipment and a kitchen knife on the suspect. As the officer attempted to make the arrest, the suspect resisted, Childress said.
At least one store employee was hit as May and the uniformed officer’s struggle with the suspect pushed through the security door into the entrance lobby as customers were entering and leaving the store. This reporter was one customer entering the store as the struggle pushed through the security door into the lobby.
The struggle continued as the off-duty officer and uniformed officer attempted to handcuff him. Store security worked to clear customers from the entrance lobby. As the suspect rose from the officers’ grip, the officer used his pepper spray. Though doused with pepper spray, the suspect broke free, his shirt torn off. At this time, he stomped on May’s ankle, Childress and other witnesses said, and ran out of the store.
The uniformed officer struggled to stop the suspect. The suspect’s pants fell to his ankles. A second uniformed officer arrived. Together, in the parking lot, both uniformed officers wrestled the struggling suspect to the ground. They forced his arms behind his back and cuffed him. One officer remained positioned on top of the suspect.
Inside the store’s entrance lobby, the off-duty officer was down, saying something had popped in his ankle, as well as being hit by the after-effects of the pepper spray. Despite coughing and tearing eyes from the pepper spray, a female Walmart security employee stayed with May to help him until an ambulance and other officers could arrive. May asked that someone tell his wife and child inside the store that he was OK.
At least two female customers warned people to either enter or exit through the store’s other entrance way. One customer rolled shopping carts in front of the doors to block people from entering them. Inside the store, several people coughed and their eyes teared as the lingering effects of pepper spray filled the area by the entrance.
The two uniformed police officers kept the suspect cuffed and belly-down on the parking lot until other officers arrived. The suspect resisted again as police attempted to place him in the back seat of a patrol car. Three officers had to wrestle the suspect into the backseat.
An ambulance arrived and transported May to the hospital. Childress said Saturday night that May suffered either a broken or dislocated ankle in the struggle.
Before the police officer could arrive at the Lowndes County Jail, the suspect kicked out the patrol car window and escaped on Madison Highway, Childress said. Lowndes County sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene. The suspect resisted arrest again. Authorities used a taser to stop him and the suspect was taken back into custody, Childress said.
Spencer Lamar Lonon, 18, is charged with theft by shoplifting, aggravated battery, multiple counts of felony obstruction of a police officer, simple battery, and criminal damage to government property, said the police commander. Lonon will likely face additional charges.
Childress was at the Walmart, off duty, shopping with his family when he saw the gathering of police cars, ambulance and a fire truck at the entrance. Working the case, he said a few people complained about the pepper spray being used inside of the store.
“Although we regret that pepper spray had to be used, that was not our decision,” the police commander said. “That was (the suspect’s) choice when he began assaulting police officers.”