Crime & Courts

Man suspected of stealing phones died after worker held him down by neck, autopsy says

A man who was pinned to the ground by employees at a Steele Creek business in February died of a brain injury caused by physical restraint, the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled in an autopsy released Monday.

Wallace Scranton, 39, was held face down on the pavement for as long as seven minutes, the medical examiner’s office wrote, citing statements from the employee who held him down.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said in February that Scranton and another man were suspected of stealing cellphones from United Wireless Group. Employees grabbed Scranton while trying to stop the theft, police said. Their names have not been released.

The employee told police that he’d wrapped his arm around Scranton’s neck while holding him down, according to the autopsy. Scranton was unresponsive when police arrived and started trying to revive him, and when Medic arrived soon after, he had no pulse, the autopsy said.

Scranton was taken to Carolinas Medical Center, where he survived for four days and died on Feb. 18, police said.

The medical examiner’s office ruled that a high level of alcohol in Scranton’s blood at the time of his hospital admission played a contributing role in his death.

The second suspect left the scene in a U-Haul truck, police said, and the truck was later found abandoned nearby. It had at least one bullet hole, and one employee told police they had fired a handgun more than once. Police believe no one was hit by the bullets.

No arrests have been made in this case, and the investigation is ongoing, police said Monday. Police spokeswoman Melissa Treadaway said Scranton’s death is considered a homicide at this time.

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Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.