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Witness says man’s death at pharmacy was ‘unnecessary’

Posted at 10:04 PM, Aug 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-11 18:03:45-04

RICHMOND, Va . -- A woman who was inside the VCU Medical Center Ambulatory Care Center Friday afternoon when a Henrico man was involved in an altercation with a security guard that resulted in his death called Phillip Whitaker, Jr.'s death "unnecessary." Richmond Police said Whitaker, 64, was pronounced dead Sunday, two days after the incident with the guard.

Joana Suarez, who did not actually see the altercation, said she saw Whitaker, Jr. lying on the pharmacy floor.

"I just remember hearing the loud thump, it was so loud,” Suarez said.

Suarez said she was waiting in line to pick up a prescription on Friday afternoon when she heard Whitaker’s name called over the loud speaker.

"They called his name said come pick up your medicine, come wait at the back of the line," Suarez recalled.

She said she did not see what happened next, but talked to others in line who did. The family said this was the second time he was called back up, because he needed to correct an issue with his prescription.

"He [a witness] said, 'Oh, Philip didn’t want to wait at the back of the line, and he told the guard and there was a problem there and that’s where the guard tackled him down,'" Suarez said. "He should have still been alive."

When Suarez saw Whitaker on the floor, she said he was unresponsive and unconscious.

"The guard was standing right beside him and he seemed really agitated," she said. "His face kind of angry in a way."

Suarez said the guard was not coming to Whitaker's aid.

"He was just standing beside him.  Everyone else was coming to Philip’s aid but he was not," Suarez said.

Richmond Police said the security guard did not work directly for VCU, but he was a contract employee. Messages left for his employers have not yet been returned. Police said charges were expected to be filed against the guard.

"Philip may not have wanted to go to the back of the line, but [the guard] had to understand him, comprehend him, be on his side, be like you know what it’s ok, your turn will come up soon, just wait at the back of the line, there’s no need to tackle him and all that happened,” Suarez said.

The incident was captured on surveillance video inside the pharmacy. Police asked anyone who may have witnessed the assault to call investigators at 804-646-0400