Civil Rights

Another famed NY retailer faces 'shop and frisk' allegations in suit by black actor


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Robert Brown. s_bukley
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It isn’t just after shopping at Barneys New York that black customers claim to have been detained by city police due to legally making expensive purchases.

Treme actor Robert Brown, who is a 2008 graduate of Amherst College, says in a lawsuit against Macy’s that he was handcuffed and “paraded” through the store on June 8 after buying a $1,350 Movado wristwatch for his mother, according to ABC News, which characterizes the suit as a “shop and frisk” case.

A federal judge held in August that city police had violated the constitutional rights of individuals both by stopping and frisking them without adequate legal basis and by racial profiing that disproportionately targeted minorities for such investigation. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg angrily denied that the city had done anything wrong and vowed to appeal, the New York Times (reg. req.) reported.

Attorney John Elefterakis is representing Brown in a suit seeking unspecified damages over the Macy’s incident. The lawyer describes the case as “about justice, not money.”

Brown had been about to buy a $350 pair of Prada sunglasses as well, when he was swarmed by plainclothes officers, he told the New York Daily News during a Friday interview at his lawyer’s office. He said he initially thought he was being robbed and demanded to see the officers’ ID, at which point he was handcuffed. “Why was I put in cuffs? Why was I even approached?” he said. “It was a slap in the face.”

Brown says he was detained for nearly an hour after buying the watch as police accused him of fraud, even though a Macy’s employee went through his identification, at his request, to prove to the officers that the credit card he had used was his. He says police gave different explanations for why he had been stopped, with one telling him at one point that a suspicious Macy’s employee called them.

Macy’s said in a written statement Sunday that its employees were not involved in the incident, but the store provided a small room to police officers when they requested it, ABC News reports.

“Our company will continue to investigate all aspects of our alleged involvement in this incident, and to cooperate fully with the courts and the New York City Police Department, with which we have a close and important working relationship,” the statement continues. “If Macy’s policies are found to have been violated, we will take swift and decisive action.”

In 2005, the store paid $600,000 to settle a complaint by then-state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that its New York department stores had racially profiling customers when determining which to handcuff and detain as shoplifting suspects, the Daily News notes. Macy’s also agreed to train employees and put an internal security monitor in place.

Last week, Barneys hit the headlines as two black shoppers said they had been detained by police–one had allegedly been jailed for two hours–after leaving the store. Police accused them of using fake debit cards, they said, but in fact they had made pricey purchases with legitimate debit cards.

The store said its employees were not involved in at least one of the claimed incidents and retained a civil rights expert to review its policies and practices.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Black student says he was detained for buying a $349 belt at upscale store, files civil rights suit”

ABAJournal.com: “2nd black shopper plans Barneys suit, says she was stopped by cops after buying a $2,500 purse”

ABAJournal.com: “Barneys hires civil rights expert, CEO says no customer of store should be accosted by cops”

New York Daily News: “Class action lawsuit against NYPD over quotas for criminal summonses heats up”

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