Target fires security guard after black customer says she was racially profiled

Target security guards forced Ashanae Davis, 20, to lift up her shirt and pull down her pants to prove that she hadn't stolen a bikini, her attorney says.
by Elizabeth Chuck /  / Updated 

Target fired a security guard at a Michigan store on Monday, two weeks after a black customer was falsely accused of stealing a bikini and then forced to remove her clothing to prove her innocence, according to her attorney.

The development was the latest in a string of discrimination allegations that have dogged the retailer.

Ashanae Davis, 20, was exiting the Southfield, Michigan, store on May 22 when a black Target security guard confronted her and claimed that she was wearing a stolen bikini bottom underneath her clothes, Davis' attorney, Jasmine Rand, said Monday.

A white security guard then handcuffed her and dragged her through the store, yelling that she had stolen the bikini, Rand said.

The officers took her to a room. Once inside, a female manager, who was white, was called in, and Davis was instructed to lift up her shirt and pull down her pants in front of the manager and the two male officers, Rand said.

Davis said she felt "humiliated and forced" by the Target employees.

"Initially, I was in shock. I couldn't believe what was going on," Davis, who lives nearby in the Detroit area, told NBC News. "I was scared — afraid of what was going to happen next."

Davis and Rand held a press conference on Monday morning in Detroit in which they detailed the incident, calling it racial profiling.

Later, Target announced that it had fired an employee who was involved.

"We want everyone who shops at Target to feel welcomed and respected and take any allegations of mistreatment seriously," Target said in a statement on Monday. "We’re sorry for the actions of our former team member, who created an experience we don’t want any guest to have at Target. Upon reviewing our team’s actions, we terminated the team member who was directly involved."

The statement added that the retailer would be addressing the matter with the security team for the store.

On Tuesday, a Target representative confirmed to NBC News that the employee who was fired had been the first security guard who confronted Davis.

The representative also denied that Davis had been dragged through the store, as her attorney had said, but said that she was swiftly walked by a Target security team directly into the room where she had been apprehended.

Target also revealed on Tuesday that the reason Davis had been stopped by the guard was because she had a brand new swimsuit, with tags, in her bag that was visible as she was exiting. The swimsuit was later determined to be from another retailer, not stolen from Target.

On Monday, Davis' attorney said that the guard who apprehended her hinted to Davis that what had happened to her was not unusual.

"The African-American employee apologized to her and said, 'This happens all the time,' and he was afraid he would lose his job" if he didn't participate, Rand said. "The other two [who were white] did not apologize at all."

The incident comes several months after a black man said he was racially profiled at a Target in Waconia, Minnesota. In that encounter, James Edward Wright III said he was told that he couldn't touch headphones before buying them because an employee was afraid that he would steal them.

Target has also faced questions of discrimination in its hiring practices: In April, the retailer agreed to a $3.7 million settlement in a lawsuit alleging that the company's criminal background check process was biased against black and Latino applicants.

Rand, a civil rights attorney who has also represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, black teens killed in high-profile shootings, did not immediately respond to a request for comment following Target's announcement of the firing.

Earlier, she had said she and co-attorney Maurice Davis were gathering evidence and considering whether to pursue criminal charges.

"Sometimes I have anxiety attacks. It's just very hard for me to enter in stores now."

She said they were looking to sue for discrimination based on race and gender and false arrest, she said.

"Obviously we want them held accountable for the violation of our client's rights. Really, to me, the person who is most culpable is the manager for letting this happen. She should have been trained to de-escalate the situation," Rand said.

It was unclear whether the potential lawsuit would proceed following the Target employee's termination.

Davis said the encounter has continued to leave her fearful, weeks later.

"Sometimes I have anxiety attacks," she said. "It's just very hard for me to enter in stores now."

CORRECTION (June 4, 2018, 11:29 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the position of the fired Target worker. It was a security guard, not a manager.

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