On May 3, 2016, Jonathan Sorensen, a 25-year-old University of New Mexico student, died at the K-Mart location at Carlisle and Indian School Road after he was held down by three loss prevention employees who suspected him of shoplifting.
Chantel Marie Trujillo, eyewitness to the killing, reported that two of the loss prevention employees sat on him as he laid face-down, handcuffed and screaming for help, while another one held his legs. They screamed at him and threatened him with bodily harm if he continued to resist, treating the situation as though they were police officers.
Trujillo said that she could clearly see that Sorensen was unable to breathe, and the LP employees restrained him for about 20 minutes until they finally got off him and realized he was dead.
Local media accounts of the deadly incident portrayed the young man’s death as the possible result of a “medical episode” after Sorensen was allegedly caught shoplifting and subdued, as if he was mortally ill and would have died anyway without the violent confrontation. Reportedly, Sorensen suffered from schizophrenia.
Sorensen’s friends and supporters, however, view the tragic end of a troubled but unforgettable life akin to murder, the ultimate elevation of the rights of property over people.
“We’re fighting a system that now includes Kmart, which has an unlimited amount of power,” said Dinah Vargas, Albuquerque human rights activist and producer of the independent media siteBurquemedia.com. “They’re acting like agents of the State, like they’re police officers. They have no authority to arrest him,”
Vargas added, “Our own state doesn’t do capital punishment. We don’t send anyone to death. I’m an American citizen, and I’ll be damned if a loss prevention officer is going to be judge, jury and executioner.”
Albuquerque attorney George Bleus represents members of Sorensen’s family. In a phone interview with Frontera NorteSur, Bleus said Sorensen was originally from Arizona and given up by his biological parents as a baby, adopted by a family that brought him to New Mexico, later abandoned to the foster system, and eventually a entrusted to caretaker.
Shortly after Sorensen’s death, Burquemedia ran an article that quotes an eye witness to the incident who recorded a video of an exchange with apparent Kmart employees as Sorensen lay unmoving on the floor. Posted on YouTube, the video shows Sorensen in the background as K-Mart employees attempt to stop the witness from taping and order her to leave the premises. A man with a black t-shirt imprinted with an image of an assault rifle tells the witness that Sorensen was “resisting.”
In an example of possible evidence tampering, a voice is heard urging the clean-up of the area. An Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officer then appears and asks the witness to step aside. No Kmart employees were immediately charged with a crime.
“Obviously police are extending the blue line if they don’t charge,” Vargas said.