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Man charged with stealing puppies dies after fight during booking

A 55-year-old Mountain Home man who had been arrested by Hendersonville police for trying to sell stolen puppies died after an altercation during the booking process at the Henderson County jail, the Henderson County sheriff's office said Monday night.

Hendersonville police officers brought the man to the Henderson County Detention Center just before 3 p.m. Monday.

After a "brief physical altercation" during the booking process the man who was arrested, Bruce Dean Stafford, became unconscious, the sheriff's office said in a news release. Jail officers and the detention medical staff immediately administered CPR. Additionally, Henderson County EMS and the Hendersonville Fire Department responded and continued life-saving measures. Stafford was transported by EMS to Pardee Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 4 p.m., the sheriff's office said. In keeping with protocol regarding in custody deaths, Sheriff McDonald has asked the SBI to conduct an independent investigation, the news release said.

City Police Officer Robert Underwood responded to a call at 2:20 p.m. at Fish & Pets about a man trying to sell two stolen Chihuahua puppies.

"The owner of Fish & Pets knew the puppies weren't his and knew who the owner was," said Capt. Bruce Simonds. When the owner of the puppies drove to the pet shop and confirmed they were his puppies, Stafford admitted to taking them. After charging Stafford with obtaining property by false pretense and possession of stolen property, Underwood transported him to the jail without incident. The officer "was wearing a camera on his chest" that recorded all his interaction with Stafford. SBI agents have already interviewed Underwood and his supervisor, Simonds said, and the police department has turned over the camera footage to the state agency. Cameras in the jail also would have recorded the booking process, Simonds said.

The puppies were stolen from a residence on Piney Ridge Road near Stafford's home on Bethea Drive, Simonds said. Stafford has been arrested before by city police, he said, although he could not immediately provide a criminal history on him. Online records of the N.C. Department of Correction do not show a Bruce Dean Stafford having been an inmate in state prison.