Constitutional Law

Black student says he was detained for buying a $349 belt at upscale store, files civil rights suit

Updated: A black engineering student who says he was handcuffed and taken in for questioning by police after purchasing a $349 belt at a well-known New York City store has filed a civil rights suit.

Trayon Christian, now 19, contends in the Manhattan Supreme Court suit that he was targeted by Barneys employees and police because he is a “young black American male.” After buying the belt April 29 with his debit card, he says, he was stopped by undercover New York detectives within a block of the store, the New York Daily News reports.

“The detectives were asking me ‘How could you afford a belt like this? Where did you get this money from?’ ” said Christian, who was also interviewed by the newspaper, adding: “They said my card wasn’t real, it was fake. They said someone at Barneys called to report it.”

Other black purchasers have since complained about similar treatment they say they received at Barneys and Macy’s in New York and the state attorney general’s office has launched a civil rights probe to determine if the stores are complying with public accommodation laws that prohibit racial profiling.

Although Christian says he showed the detectives his driver’s license and a student ID from the New York City College of Technology after buying a $349 belt at Barneys, they handcuffed him and took him to the 19th Precinct, where he was held in a cell for up to two hours, according to Christian and his lawyer, Michael Palillo.

Released with his belt and an apology, Christian was nonetheless angry about the way he says he was treated, the newspaper recounts. In addition to filing the civil rights suit, he returned the belt to Barneys for a full refund and says he will not be shopping there again.

The store and the New York police department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily News. However, in a Facebook post the store said it was making an exception to its usual policy not to comment on pending litigation.

“In this instance, we feel compelled to note that after carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale,” a spokeswoman says in the post. “Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights.”

The comment apparently did little to mollify angry observers of the situation, reports the Huffington Post, since comments on the Facebook page were largely negative, from the store’s standpoint.

A city law department spokeswoman said it has not yet been served with the suit, the Daily News reported.

Last updated on Oct. 29 to link include news of civil rights probe by attorney general’s office.

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