Portland middle-schooler accuses Clackamas Kohl’s security guards of racial profiling, false imprisonment www.privateofficer.com
Portland OR Aug 4 2012 Malcom Williams was awarded a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors last spring for his scholarship, athleticism and good behavior at SEI Academy in North Portland. But when the 13-year-old football player took his new shoes to Kohl’s Department Store in Clackamas to exchange them for a different color, he apparently wasn’t treated like a scholar-athlete.
The boy was racially profiled, tailed by store security, accused repeatedly of fraud and wrongly detained in a back room for the better part of an hour, his father alleges in a lawsuit filed this week in Portland’s U.S. District Court.
Simon Williams, a 40-year-old single father who works as a chemical dependency therapist, accuses Kohl’s Department Stores Inc. and two unnamed security guards of falsely imprisoning his son and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
The incident occurred on June 8, when Malcom Williams and a friend went to Kohl’s to exchange his new, nectarine-colored shoes for red ones. He showed a store clerk the gift receipt and was directed to a spot where he could find replacements. As he walked through the store, he saw a man tailing him.
“Neither Malcom nor his friend had engaged in any improper or inappropriate conduct to warrant such surveillance,” the lawsuit says. “Instead, Malcom was almost immediately profiled and followed throughout the Kohl’s store by its agent because he was a young African American male, accompanied by another young African American male.”
The teenager soon spied some other gear — sandals, socks and a pair of shorts — and decided to use his gift receipt to get them. He brought the merchandise to a clerk at the front of the store, who told him his receipt was good only for another pair of Chuck Taylors. He returned the goods to their display and sent his friend to get the red Chucks.
The lawsuit alleges that the clerk had it wrong, because store policy allowed his son to apply the purchase price of his shoes for other merchandise.
Phone calls left Thursday at the media relations office at Kohl’s headquarters, in Milwaukee, Wis., were not immediately returned.
The middle-school student wrapped up his shoe exchange and walked to the exit with his friend, where he was approached by a pair of plainclothes security guards.
“Without making any inquiry of the Kohl’s employees at the exchange desk who had dealt with Malcom, or absent any discussion with Malcom about any of their suspicions, they required Malcom to accompany them to a back room at the store,” the lawsuit alleges.
A male security guard — the one who had tailed the teenager earlier — kept him in the back room, repeatedly accusing him of “exchange fraud” and preventing him from leaving, according to the complaint, filed Wednesday.
“Even though Malcom was only 13 years old, at no time during the unlawful detention did the security officer suggest or offer to allow time for Malcom to make a telephone call to a parent or guardian, or attempt to contact Malcom’s parent or guardian,” the lawsuit alleges. “After 45 minutes, Malcom was released from the back room and allowed to leave the store.”
The teen heard one of the security guards say, “This tactic usually works,” according to the complaint.
What should have been a positive and enjoyable experience for the boy — learning to handle a merchandise exchange on his own — turned into a humiliating, frightening and traumatic event, the lawsuit alleges. Instead, it states, the store’s actions left him with fears of unfounded race-based accusations.