A corrections officer in Georgia has sued Walmart, claiming he was racially profiled as a shoplifting suspect and handcuffed for no reason other than that he was “big and Black.”
The man, David Conners, an officer at the Clayton County Detention Center, was shopping for items for his new home on or about Sept. 30 at a Walmart in Fayetteville, about 22 miles south of Atlanta, when he was stopped, according to the lawsuit, which was filed this month.
The Walmart store's chief loss prevention officer misidentified Conners as a person who was suspected of having shoplifted at the store on multiple occasions, the lawsuit says.
Conners' lawyer, Terance Madden, said Wednesday that officials knew the name of the shoplifting suspect and had photos of him and an active warrant.
Conners was on the phone when police approached him and asked him for his name, Madden said.
He said his name and identified himself as a law enforcement officer, producing his driver's license and his work ID.
The loss prevention officer contacted the Fayetteville Police Department, who arrived at the store, "surrounded him, embarrassed him and escorted him, in full view of other shoppers, into the store’s Loss Prevention Office," the lawsuit says.
He was then put in handcuffs with his hands behind his back, according to the lawsuit.
Once he was in the office, Conners was shown a photo of the suspect, who was wearing a mask, and he continued to deny it was him, Madden said.
"It's not me. You've got my identification. You know who I am. You can call over and ask. I don't even shoplift," Conners told the officers and staff members, Madden said.
Conners also pointed out that he has noticeable tattoos visible on his arms and that the suspect did not.
Madden said that Conners was targeted because of racial profiling and that "this can happen to anyone."
"One of the officers said, trying to make excuses of why he was misidentified, ‘Well, you’re about the same build.’ That means the only identifying that they did on him was that he was big and he was Black," Madden said.
Eventually, the lead Fayetteville police investigator in the case of the shoplifter was called. Madden said the officers then practically put Connors in a “line-up” by putting him on FaceTime with the investigator, who said he was not the suspect.
Conners was uncuffed and let go. The incident lasted about 30 minutes, Madden said.
“He’s thinking: ‘I’m an officer. I identified myself as such. I was stopped for no reason.’ His mind is everywhere,” Madden said.
Madden said neither the police officers who were involved nor store employees apologized.
Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove said: “We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind and take allegations like this seriously. We are not going to comment further on this pending litigation.”
Fayetteville police said in a statement Wednesday that Conner "seemed to be agitated" when they responded to the call from Walmart and "placed him in an investigative detention briefly."
"Fayetteville Police responded to a 911 shoplifting call and had nothing to do with accusing Mr. Conner of any wrongdoing. We merely investigated the complaint for validity, which Walmart LP officers lodged," the statement said.
"Mr. Conner fit the description of a repeat offender that had been targeting this specific Walmart in the eyes of the 911 caller. To complicate matters, both the suspect and Mr. Conner have similar builds and were both wearing COVID protective masks. We did briefly detain Mr. Conner to investigate the alleged crime. This detention occurred outside of the public’s view in the LP office located in Walmart."
The police department and its officers are not named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Madden said Conners was "highly affected" by the incident and no longer goes to that Walmart, which he used to frequent.
The lawsuit says Conners sustained physical injuries from being handcuffed and sought professional counseling to cope with mental and psychological trauma.
The lawsuit, filed in Clayton County, seeks recovery of damages for injuries and punitive damages.