An East Portland mom who was falsely accused of shoplifting at the Lents Ross Dress for Less store in June is filing a lawsuit and looking for other customers who had the same experience.
In particular her attorneys are interested in any Ross customers who have been told they are listed on a national retail theft database but have no history of shoplifting.
The case is being handled by the same attorneys, Kafoury and McDougal, who in June won a $105,000 settlement for Portlander Brenda Moaning, falsely accused of shoplifting and held by store security against her will at the H&M store in Clackamas Town Center in 2011.
In the Ross case, Shaquoya Burns, a mother of two young kids, was not held but was refused service and repeatedly accused of being a shoplifter in front of her young child and other patrons.
Burns says she had just arrived in the Eastport Plaza store with her 3-year-old daughter and was heading to the boys’ department to shop for her son on June 8.
“I was in there not even three minutes,” she said. “I had a shirt in my hand, and the store manager walked up to me and said he was sorry to inform me but I had to leave the store because he was just informed by loss prevention that I was on the national database for shoplifting.”
Burns said she spoke with the loss prevention staff at the store and they confirmed she was on a retail theft database, so she went back to the store manager and asked him to prove the allegation.
“First I said, tell me my name because you haven't told me my name,” Burns says. “And he said, I don't have to disclose that information to you.”
The manager gave her the number of a district official for the retail chain; meanwhile, Burns left the store and called the Portland Police Bureau on its non-emergency number and described the situation.
Worried her identity had been stolen, Burns called a friend to take her toddler and waited an hour and a half for an officer to arrive.
When Portland Police Officer Carlos Ibarra ran Burns’ name through the police reporting system, he confirmed Burns had no arrests, citations or convictions for shoplifting.
Then they both went back into the store to determine whether a crime had taken place.
“Carlos Ibarra, the Portland police officer, was very, very helpful,” Burns says. “He said, let's go in the store and get to the bottom of this.” She says the officer asked the store manager if it was a case of mistaken identity.
“And he said no, I've got her on several occasions myself, personally,” Burns says.
Officer Ibarra’s police report says that the store manager not only accused Burns of theft and said she would be banned from all Ross stores nationwide, but that he had “videos and pictures to prove it.”
According to the police report, Ibarra asked three times for any evidence that Burns had shoplifted, but the store manager refused to provide it.
Ibarra wrote that Burns was clearly upset and crying after the scene, upset that even her toddler daughter was “treated like a ‘criminal’ in public.”
Afterwards Burns called the district official’s number provided by the store manager and heard back two days later.
“She told me she was going to do an investigation,” Burns said. “Mind you, she never actually asked me my name, she never asked me my birthday. She never asked me my last name to make sure I wasn't on whatever list this was.”
Burns says she called and texted the manager for 10 days in a row, then finally got a call back saying she was not on the theft list and that she could shop in any Ross she liked, and that the manager was sorry for her inconvenience.
“I said what, if anything, can you tell me is going to happen to the store manager? She said I can't tell you that but what I can tell you is that there will be more training,” Burns said.
“I was just mortified, because never, ever have I ever been a shoplifter.”
Connie Wong, the director of investor and media relations for Ross Stores, declined to answer questions about the Burns case or the Ross retail theft database.
Civil rights attorneys Greg and Jason Kafoury handle false theft accusations frequently, they say.
“We get a lot of false arrest cases involving security at Ross Dress for Less,” Jason Kafoury says. “A lot of them are quite egregious and quite aggressive.
“This one was unique though, in my perspective, because they are claiming she's in some national database of thieves, and then when pressed on it they cannot provide any evidence of it,” he said.
A quick web search shows a handful of retail theft databases nationwide, each operated by the corporate sector to benefit its member companies. They are not affiliated with government or the courts.
“I'm highly interested in this notion of whether this national registry is being used to exclude blacks from the store,” Greg Kafoury says. The attorneys are encouraging any local shoppers who have been told they are on such a list, but who have no shoplifting history, to contact them.
Contact them at www.kafourymcdougal.com.
Accused of Shoplifting? Here’s What to Do
Greg and Jason Kafoury offer these tips on what to do if you are falsely accused of shoplifting in a retail establishment:
Don't make a scene. Keep your dignity.
Get the names of witnesses who have watched the situation unfold, get their phone numbers and email addresses if possible.
Do not physically resist if security wants to take you into custody, and comply with their requests to dump out your bags – it’s the best way to quickly show you have nothing to hide.
See a lawyer immediately to make sure you get your hands on any security videos – the monitoring camera film is often recycled within days.