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Guard suspended for tackling deaf shoplifting suspect

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Deaf shoplifting suspect tackled
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Because he is deaf, Alejandro Rea could not hear the alarm or guard's shouts to stop
  • His lawyer is threatening to sue the store for excessive force
  • Cell phone video of the incident has gone viral on YouTube
  • Rea's brother says security should just tap people on the shoulder

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- An alarm sounded when Alejandro Rea walked out of a Hollywood Boulevard clothing store earlier this month, signaling that he may be leaving with merchandise he didn't pay for.

Rea is deaf, so he didn't hear the alarm or the shouts from a security guard ordering him to stop. The 28-year-old kept walking out of the Forever 21 until he was tackled and placed in a choke-hold by the guard.

It was a drama that played out in front of dozens of tourists gathered on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and near Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Pablo Rea, also hearing-impaired as are other members of the family, said it was frustrating watching the guard wrestle his brother for several minutes.

Video: Guard suspended for tackle
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"I can see my brother saying he couldn't communicate," Pablo Rea said Thursday, speaking through an interpreter. "It was like an immediate attack and my brother went limp and then he got in a choke-hold and became purple."

Rea's lawyer, John Henrichs, is threatening to sue the store for using excessive force and causing injuries to Rea, something Forever 21 acknowledged in a statement.

"We recognize that the security guard used excessive force, which is against our store policy and have suspended him indefinitely," the store said in a news release.

An advocacy group for the deaf wants the clothing store chain to train workers to be more sensitive to hearing-impaired customers.

"We're making sure that it won't happen again," said Patricia Hughes, CEO of the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAD).

Video of the incident, shot by Joshua Fountain using his cell phone, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times since it was uploaded to YouTube.

"His eyes were watery," Fountain, from Long Beach, California, said. "He was practically purplish, reddish, so he was suffering, and he was continuing tapping on the security guard's arm, telling him 'I've had enough, I am submitting.'"

Alejandro Rea has not seen the video, since he has been held in a Los Angeles jail since his August 7 arrest. His court date is August 24, and he hasn't been able to pay his $56,000 bond.

Instead of a misdemeanor shoplifting charge, he faces felony second-degree robbery. His alleged violent resistance to the security guard and his prior arrest record apparently played a role in the more serious charge, the lawyer said.

Rea was convicted twice before on misdemeanor petty theft charges, in 2002 and 2008, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney's office said.

Henrichs said it doesn't matter in the civil case if he was shoplifting, since it did not justify the brutal treatment by the guards.

"The security guard, the same one, when they took him back in the office, threw him against the wall twice and so he has injuries from that and he is entitled to be compensated for that," Henrichs said.

Forever 21 could avoid a lawsuit with a settlement, Henrichs said, that should include a donation to Patricia Hughes' organization.

"Maybe they can turn a negative into a positive with donation to GLAD for sensitivity training for security workers," he said.

Pablo Rea has simple advice for security guards.

"They should have tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention," Rea said.

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