By Chris Hoenig
The finger-pointing in the increasingly public racial-profiling claims at major New York City retailers is now going both ways, with Barneys blaming the NYPD and a former NYPD officer claiming to be a victim of profiling at Macy’s.
Attorney Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, completed a review commissioned by Barneys and found that the store does not have any written or unwritten policy to racially profile customers. In his report, he also says that store employees did not “request, require nor initiate the actions of the New York Police Department” against two Black customers, which resulted in lawsuits against the store. In fact, he said, officers took action against the shoppers even though security staff at the store didn’t believe it was necessary.
Yaki reviewed the store’s policies and procedures, other written materials and interviewed store employees as part of his investigation, but did not speak with the officers involved or any other representative of the NYPD.
In his report, Yaki said that officers from the NYPD’s grand-larceny unit and a local anticrime division would often stop by Barneys’ security control room, where the video feeds are processed and reviewed, during periodic visits to the store. But that claim is disputed by police officials. “In both instances, NYPD officers were conducting unrelated investigations and took action after conferring with Barneys employees while in their security room,” John McCarthy, the police department’s chief spokesman, has said.
In the case of Trayon Christian, who was detained after purchasing a $350 belt, the report said that officers watched from the control room while Christian check out and believed that the transaction was too fast and could be fraudulent. Even though Barneys employees said they didn’t need to, the officers moved to stop Christian before he left. But the NYPD, which has opened an internal-affairs investigation into two encounters at the store, says that officers making an unrelated arrest on site were alerted by Barneys employees to Christian.
The report said that officers in the control room asked for surveillance cameras to follow Kayla Phillips, who was stopped after purchasing a $2,500 handbag. According to Yaki, store employees told the officers that there was nothing suspicious about her or her transaction. The NYPD again says they were at the store for an unrelated investigation and were told by the cashier that Phillips used a card with no name on it to purchase the bag.
While the controversy around the store continues, Barneys announced that it had cancelled an event to celebrate the launch of its collaboration with Jay Z, which the rapper has said he would continue despite the racial-profiling claims. The company did not give a reason for canceling the party.
Former Cop Claims to Be Victim
The Barneys report blaming the NYPD arrives as a former NYPD officer comes forward with allegations of her own, including that she was the victim of racial profiling at Macy’s that cost her her job.
Jenny Mendez has filed a $40 million lawsuit against the store, claiming that she was profiled by store security staff, who reportedly admitted in court to lying on a report in order to have her arrested. The 29-year-old was a probationary officer who had been with the NYPD for less than a year when she was fired because of the incident, which happened last Black Friday.
According to the lawsuit, a store detective identified in the lawsuit only as Trouche testified at Mendez’s shoplifting trial in September that she checked yes on a box indicating that Mendez had confessed to the theft, when Mendez had not, which was “something our boss told us” to do. Trouche went on to admit that bosses had told her to lie on the report as a matter of practice. Mendez was acquitted after a two-day trial.
“It was one wrong on top of another that happened to Jenny Mendez,” Philip Karasyk, Mendez’s attorney, told DNAinfo New York. “First she was wrongly accused and then she lost the job she loved, and that wrong should be made right.”
Mendez claims that she had gone shopping with her mother to take advantage of day-after-Thanksgiving sales at the store. While her mother was checking out, a bag of clothes that had already been rung up went missing and they were told by the cashier to report the loss to security. Before they could, security called Mendez to tell her that the bag had been found on another alleged shoplifter and they could claim it in their office, which is on a floor with no outside exits. Mendez says she went with her mother to pick up the bag with her own bag of items that she had not yet purchased, was accused of stealing and was arrested.