A 68-year-old black woman in Missouri is suing four white police officers claiming that she and her son were injured when officers threw them to the floor of a big-box store on the false accusation that they had stolen a television.
Marvia Gray, 68, said the incident began when she and her son, Derek, went to a Sam’s Club in the St. Louis suburb of Des Peres on March 23 to buy a television, according to the complaint filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court on Monday against the city of Des Peres and four of its police officers.
The TV they bought did not fit into their SUV, so the Grays told the store they would come back to pick it up, the complaint says. When Derek returned to the store with his receipt, the TV was “withheld from him on suspicion that he was attempting to steal it,” the complaint alleges. Eventually, the television was released to him after a "store employee interceded with management and confirmed that Derek had in fact made the purchase."
When Derek went to load the television into his car, an officer followed him.
The complaint alleges that a store employee informed the officer that Derek had purchased the television, but the officer nonetheless made an “emergency phone call” saying he “witnessed Gray steal a TV and place it in the parked vehicle.” When Derek returned home with the TV and told his mother he was accused of stealing, the two decided to return the TV and went back to the store.
While at the store attempting to get a refund, the lawsuit alleges that four Des Peres police officers "without cause or adequate provocation and in the presence of countless witnesses, violently and physically seized Marvia Gray and Derek Gray, throwing them to the floor, beating them, handcuffing them, then arresting them."
The incident was captured on a store surveillance camera.
Marvia and Derek Gray were both arrested, and their TV and other purchases they had made at the store were seized and their car towed, the lawsuit says. Their purchases were returned to them by police the following day.
The mother and son both suffered multiple injuries and extreme emotional distress from the incident, the complaint says.
Andrew M. Stroth, of Action Injury Law Group, a national civil rights law firm representing Marvia Gray, said his client “thought her son was about to be another black man unjustifiably shot and killed by the police,” according to The Associated Press. “You can see in the video that she is terrified with respect to what they’re doing to her son,” Stroth said.
In a press release, the Des Peres Public Safety Department said its officers “were dispatched to the Sam’s Club for a reported Larceny” and upon arrival learned “it was the previous subjects from the earlier incident,” referring to when the officer followed Derek Gray to his car.
The statement said Derek Gray “did not comply and began to struggle with officers” and that Marvia Gray was arrested after she “began to grab and pull at the officers” during the interaction. Derek Gray was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer and “stealing in the near future” and Marvia Gray was charged with interfering and resisting arrest.
The city said it is investigating the incident, and Des Peres Police Capt. Sean Quinn told NBC News in an email, "There is a lawsuit that has been filed and because of this I cannot comment any further."
Sam’s Club could not be immediately reached for comment by NBC News on Tuesday.
The St. Louis County chapter of the NAACP told KSDK that it is standing with the Grays to seek accountability for the officers.
"Unfortunately, I get these complaints way too often," the chapter's president, John Bowman, said. "It appears in more and more police interaction between people of color and white police officers, there seems to be this feeling that they treat black people as a weapon because of their color.”