CHICAGO — A CVS store manager who choked a homeless man to death while trying to recover stolen toothpaste told investigators he never meant to hurt him — despite admitting he "cranked down" on the man when he refused to stop struggling, according to a video of the manager's interrogation.
The police interrogation video was recorded on May 8, 2010, the day Anthony Kyser died after a struggle in the alley behind the CVS drugstore in Little Village. A copy of the video showing Kyser's death was obtained by DNAinfo.com Chicago.
In the interrogation video, he tells police that he only tried to restrain the man and only put more pressure on the suspected shoplifter when he refused to roll over onto his stomach.
The store manager, identified in court papers as Pedro Villanova, was not charged in the case, and police ruled the death an accident. CVS has said Villanova was acting in self-defense after being punched by Kyser, 35.
“I don’t want to hurt anybody; I just want to put him down,” Villanova tells two Chicago Police investigators in the video, taped hours after the incident. “I’m trying to get my stuff back.”
Kyser’s death was captured by surveillance video in the alley, and the grainy footage shows the CVS manager struggling with Kyser and wrestling him to the ground.
When police arrive several minutes later, video of the incident shows the store manager backing away from the man lying on the pavement. But by then, Kyser appears motionless.
His death was labeled a homicide by the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.
In the interrogation video, Villanova is shown waiting alone in a small room at the Harrison Area police station on the West Side. After a rap on the door, he is joined by two investigators and learns he is under arrest.
“What am I under arrest for?” asks Villanova, still wearing a shirt he said was stained with Kyser’s blood, in the interrogation. “I thought you had to have a reason to arrest somebody.”
After being read his rights, Villanova agrees to talk and tells police that he knew Kyser was hiding stolen merchandise in his shirt, according to the video.
"He had 14 or 15 boxes of toothpaste. You could tell," Villanova says in the interrogation video.
That's when Villanova followed him out of the CVS at 2634 S. Pulaski Road.
“He starts running. … I am shouting at him to stop,” Villanova says in the interrogation.
Villanova then tells investigators that when he caught up with him in the alley, Kyser struck first.
“He punches me in my jaw,” he says, according to the video. “He cracked me good on my jaw; I swung at him.”
The store manager says in the interrogation he wrestled Kyser to the ground. Another man — identified by Villanova as a "transient" who often hangs out behind the CVS — then approaches and hits the alleged thief even as the store manager ordered him not to touch Kyser, he tells investigators.
Kyser continued to struggle, Villanova says in the interrogation.
“He tells me ‘I can’t breath.’ I said roll on your belly, and I’ll let you go,' ” Villanova recounts in the video. But Villanova explains that Kyser refused to roll onto his stomach.
“I just cranked down and put more pressure, and then he rolls on his belly,” he says in the video.
At that point in the interrogation, an investigator tells Villanova the "whole thing" was caught by a security camera and that his story matched up with what unfolded on the video.
Also on the police interrogation video, Villanova tells police his job depends on stopping shoplifters.
“Last year, I lost $120,000 out of that store," he says. "I get fired if that happens.”
When police tell him that Kyser died, Villanova falls silent in the interrogation room.
After the investigators leave him alone in the room again, Villanova buries his head in his hands, the video shows.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) has called for a special investigation into Kyser's death, but a spokeswoman for the congressman said Monday that Rush has not received a response from the office of Cook County’s Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Evans.
Kyser's mother, Ann Marie Kyser, filed a lawsuit claiming the store manager committed battery and that CVS is liable for her son's death. That case is pending in Cook County Circuit Court.
CVS officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit. Villanova could not be reached for comment.