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

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.

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

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.

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.