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'I can't breathe': English-speaking 'shoplifter' held in chokehold at Berlin store

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'I can't breathe': English-speaking 'shoplifter' held in chokehold at Berlin store
File photo: DPA.
15:27 CEST+02:00
A video seen by The Local shows an English-speaking suspected shoplifter being tackled to the ground and placed in a chokehold, screaming "I can't breathe". Police are now investigating a complaint of dangerous assault.

According to American writer Ben, who recorded the video, the incident occurred at around noon on Friday at a Rewe store in Neukölln. Ben told The Local that Rewe staff had accused the man of shoplifting and took his backpack before he then left the store.

The video shows the man coming back inside, Ben says apparently to get his backpack, grabbing for the bag and a bottle before charging towards the door and another man. The alleged shoplifter then struggles with staff members over his backpack, according to Ben, before the man at the door swings his arm around the suspect's neck and slams him to the ground, as the video shows.

This man and another man then restrain the suspect on the ground, one of them using a chokehold. The man on the ground then starts to shout in English “I can't breathe, please!”

After another man comes over to the one performing the chokehold, he loosens his arms and tells the man on the ground to “lay down” as he starts to kneel on his chest, causing the man to yell out again.

The video ends as another Rewe employee tells Ben to stop filming. Ben told The Local that this staff member threatened to have him arrested for filming.

Ben later filed a complaint to police about how the suspect was treated.

After being sent the video by The Local, a spokesperson for Rewe confirmed that a suspected shoplifter was restrained by a hired “store detective” on Friday, but would not say whether the man using the chokehold was employed by the supermarket.

“Shoplifting at retail stores is unfortunately widespread and leads to losses of several billion euros per year in Germany,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“While the shop detective held onto the thief on Rollbergstrasse after he tried to flee and resist, police were notified as per usual in these cases.”

Rewe also confirmed that police arrived at the scene to detain the man after the detective had stopped him from fleeing, and that the stolen property was secured.

Berlin police confirmed to The Local that a man is being investigated for shoplifting at the store, and that they are also investigating a complaint of someone committing dangerous assault at the store. Police could not say whether the person accused of committing assault was a Rewe employee.

The police spokesman also said he could not give a blanket statement as to whether using a chokehold to restrain a suspected shoplifter was allowed, though he said stores have a right to try to stop suspected thieves.

Ben initially published the video on Facebook until a man claiming to be the store detective's lawyer threatened him with legal action if he did not remove it.

The police spokesman explained that individuals have a right to privacy and to determine how their own image is used, and therefore may file civil complaints if they are recorded without permission.

Ben told The Local that the suspected shoplifter sounded as though he was American from the way he spoke English. He also said he was shocked by the actions of the men who held him down.

“It was so brutal that I couldn't believe it was store policy to do it,” said Ben.

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