Guard charged in suffocation death of black outside store

DETROIT - A private security guard was charged Thursday with involuntary manslaughter in the suffocation death of a black man last month outside a department store.

The charge against Dennis Richardson, a guard for the Lord and Taylor store at Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, came a day after thousands of protesters rallied outside the store. They suggested the June 22 death of Frederick Finley had racial overtones, though the suspect also is black.

Finley was in the Lord & Taylor store with friends and family when surveillance cameras allegedly recorded some members of the group shoplifting. Finley's 11-year-old stepdaughter removed a bracelet from a counter and left the store without paying for it, prosecutors said in a statement.

Outside, security workers tried to question the girl and Finley intervened, prosecutors said. During an ensuing confrontation with Finley, Richardson used a neck hold to subdue the Detroit man, ultimately causing his death, the statement said.

''Under all the circumstances, the duration and amount of force used by Richardson was excessive, and probable cause clearly exists'' for the involuntary manslaughter count, Prosecutor John D. O'Hair said in the statement.

Prosecutors and Dearborn police did not return telephone messages Thursday seeking further detail.

The manslaughter count carries a possible 15 years in prison and $7,500 fine.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who represents Finley's family, said he believed a second-degree murder charge would have been more appropriate.

''Mr. Richardson didn't just put him in a choke hold. Mr. Richardson put a chain around Mr. Finley's neck and pulled it until he crushed his trachea,'' Fieger told Detroit radio station WWJ.

An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 protesters led by the Rev. Al Sharpton rallied Wednesday outside the store, some carrying signs with messages such as ''Racism is alive and well. We kill for $4 in Michigan'' and ''God is watching you.''

Two autopsies showed Finley died of asphyxia due to suffocation.

Police said at least some of the guards who were involved are black, including Richardson, 29, of Detroit. Protesters accused Lord & Taylor of having black security workers watch minority shoppers to avoid the appearance of discrimination or racial profiling.

Prosecutors said that suggestions that some of the other guards involved in the incident contributed to Finley's death could not be substantiated.

Store spokeswoman LaVelle Olexa declined to comment on the protest, citing the police investigation and a civil suit.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan routinely fields complaints by minority shoppers who say they were treated differently, said Michael Steinberg, the agency's legal director.

''It's a major problem in the malls or suburbs, where African-Americans feel they're suspect the minute they walk into a store,'' he said. ''Every once in a while, there's a high-profile case like this one which raises awareness of the problem.''

He said he was not aware of any such complaints relating to Fairlane or its Lord & Taylor store before Finley's death.

About 0.4 percent of Dearborn's 89,286 residents are black, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Many of Fairlane's customers are black, many coming from mostly black Detroit.


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