Witness Questions Response to Shoplifter's Death Outside South Coast Plaza Saks Fifth Avenue

Costa Mesa police say a shoplifting suspect suffered some kind of medical condition while being detained outside Saks Fifth Avenue by South Coast Plaza security on May 18 and was later pronounced died at a local hospital.

That's not quite how at least one witness saw it.

Here's the official version of what happened before 4 p.m. that Wednesday:

Mall security stopped two men in the parking lot suspected of stealing several pairs of designer sunglasses from Saks. One man darted off while the other was detained by mall security. Police were called around 4 p.m., and several pairs of sunglasses were recovered. As the suspect was being held, he suffered some kind of medical condition. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. George Marques, 44, of Placentia, suffered cardiac arrest, according to the county coroner.

Jim Cosper does not dispute much of that account, but he claims there is more to the story that he fears is conveniently being left out.

Cosper is a driver with California Yellow Cab, and he felt it was important to point out that his company does promotions with OC Weekly. He says he watched the events unfold in the South Coast Plaza parking lot. This is what he says he saw from a taxi stand about 40 feet away:

A male African-American security guard chased a white shoplifter out of Saks. The guard tackled the suspect, who dropped store items as his head slammed into the pavement. Though the man was not moving, he was handcuffed behind his back and turned over onto his back. “When I saw him, he was already deceased,” Cosper said. “I saw no movement in his abdomen and chest. There was a red spot on his forehead.”

The cabbie could not understand why no one tried to resuscitate the suspect or request a doctor over the mall's public address system. He estimated it was 10 minutes before paramedics and fire personnel arrived to tend to the man. “If you're not breathing for 10 minutes, you're gone,” Cosper said.

He also watched the second suspect, who he described as a Hispanic man, jump into another cab with two child passengers in tow. That taxi whizzed past Cosper's but was quickly stopped by police. “That never works out,” Cosper said of trying to flee a crime scene in a cab.

Though he did not know Marques, Cosper suspects the dead man's family may have grounds for legal action against the mall and city.

Costa Mesa Police Lt. Mark Manley tells the Weekly his department has no other comment on the case other than the official statement described above.

The Orange County District Attorney's office is investigating, as is routine with in-custody deaths.

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