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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2008
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    9

    Default Are A False Accusation And Refusal Of Detention Grounds For A Lawsuit

    My question involves criminal law for the state of: New York

    Recently, I was accused of shoplifting cleaning products from a local supermarket. The items were in a "No Plastic Please" cloth tote bag and were purchased the day before in my boyfriend's neighborhood since certain products are RARE to find in heavily ethnic neighborhoods (so no receipt). As I was walking out after purchasing bleach, a person in a uniform stopped me and asked to see my bags. I obliged since I saw no harm and no real theft.

    A department manager claimed they saw me place the items in my cloth bag. I knew an employee's claim is suitable evidence for detention. I asked the person in uniform to be sequestered since all this questioning was held near the exit for customers, staff, vendors and passersby to see. There were fifteen minutes of requesting for privacy/detention, their refusal, being questioned on the items purchased, disputing with the accuser, staff employees telling me to "just give them your id and the stuff and they'll let you go." I continually asked for the cops and the uniformed person eventually called on their cell. Once the police arrived, they immediately said, "We need to do this in a private space." After the police refused the deli department as private, they took us to the loading dock section. After the police took both sides of the story, they saw there was little proof (no video, employee testimony) and who knows what else. They did not take my ID, no letter was signed, no charges pressed. I was asked to leave and they confiscated all my assumed shoplifted items. I have since spoken to both store managers, and the COO they refuse to provide names of the accuser and the uniformed person and said I should have been arrested.

    My question is:
    1) Is detention a NY State mandatory after a suspect is initially questioned?
    2) What can I do if corporate is unresponsive?
    3) Controversial: Is it grounds for discrimination if this occurred in a non-ethnic (i.e. white) neighborhood and I am a person of color? Normally, I would say no but recycling cloth bags are VERY common for white people, not so much for black or latinos. Since the customer base for this supermarket is mostly white, a non-white entering the store with this bag could be seen as a shoplifting ploy.

    Sorry for the long email and thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    California
    Posts
    15,076

    Default Re: Cause For Lawsuit? - False Accusation And Refusal For Detention

    Quote Quoting CarmenLora
    View Post
    I asked the person in uniform to be sequestered since all this questioning was held near the exit for customers, staff, vendors and passersby to see. There were fifteen minutes of requesting for privacy/detention, their refusal, being questioned on the items purchased, disputing with the accuser, staff employees telling me to "just give them your id and the stuff and they'll let you go."
    They do not HAVE to "sequester" you simply because you request it.

    I have since spoken to both store managers, and the COO they refuse to provide names of the accuser and the uniformed person and said I should have been arrested.
    They are under no obligation to provide you with those names. And, if the manager had been willing to sign a citizen's arrest (or NY's equivalent), then you should have been arrested. For whatever reason, that did not happen.

    My question is:
    1) Is detention a NY State mandatory after a suspect is initially questioned?
    NO detention is "mandatory". However, a detention is permitted by law enforcement, and a private person's arrest is permitted with cause. in this case, apparently a manager alleged they saw you steal the items - that is "cause".

    2) What can I do if corporate is unresponsive?
    What do you WANT to do? What are you seeking? They have a right to detain shoplifters. I suspect the most that you can expect here in apology of some kind, but i doubt that will happen as i do not see where they did anything wrong here. Plus, why will they be willing to expose themselves to a potential lawsuit by admitting they did something wrong when, it appears, they did not?

    3) Controversial: Is it grounds for discrimination if this occurred in a non-ethnic (i.e. white) neighborhood and I am a person of color?
    Only if the reason for the detention was the color of your skin. Nothing in your post indicates this is an issue.


    - Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"


    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    9

    Default Re: Cause For Lawsuit? - False Accusation And Refusal For Detention

    Thank you for the quick response, Carl! Greatly appreciated but do I sense hostility? Theft is a VERY serious issue but so is a false accusation. And sensing racially discrimination.

    New York State law does have language in their shoplifting laws about retailers questioning suspects in certain spaces. Are they obligated? You may be right that they aren't but there is language on location of investigation. I was hoping for some specific clarity on the statutes on that issue.

    Also, a company can chose to not disclose an employees first and/or last name, but their should be some complicity on there part for clarity or resolution on a customer complaint (e.g. bad customer service = I badmouth the company to everyone I know, Consumerist, BBB and the blogsphere). The fact that police did not file charges is a GLARING indication that there were questionable issues and had the case gone to court, the charged could have been dropped. Essentially, it would have been a waste of the company's legal department time.

    To clarify, I spoke to a legal representative for the company and they offered a gift certificate for the confiscated items and stated they would follow-through on my issue regarding detention, video surveillance and staff cooperation in customer complaints. I considered the call a bluff, thus I requested advice from the forum.

    From this post , I still think this is an outstanding issue. What do other readers think about this issue?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Michigan
    Posts
    28,650

    Default Re: Cause For Lawsuit? - False Accusation And Refusal For Detention

    Is this the statute you're thinking of?
    Quote Quoting New York Code, General Business 218. Defense of lawful detention.
    ]In any action for false arrest, false imprisonment, unlawful detention, defamation of character, assault, trespass, or invasion of civil rights, brought by any person by reason of having been detained on or in the immediate vicinity of the premises of (a) a retail mercantile establishment for the purpose of investigation or questioning as to criminal possession of an anti-security item as defined in section 170.47 of the penal law or as to the ownership of any merchandise, or (b) a motion picture theater for the purposes of investigation or questioning as to the unauthorized operation of a recording device in a motion picture theater, it shall be a defense to such action that the person was detained in a reasonable manner and for not more than a reasonable time to permit such investigation or questioning by a peace officer acting pursuant to his special duties, police officer or by the owner of the retail mercantile establishment or motion picture theater, his authorized employee or agent, and that such officer, owner, employee or agent had reasonable grounds to believe that the person so detained was guilty of criminal possession of an anti-security item as defined in section 170.47 of the penal law or was committing or attempting to commit larceny on such premises of such merchandise or was engaged in the unauthorized operation of a recording device in a motion picture theater. As used in this section, "reasonable grounds" shall include, but not be limited to, knowledge that a person (i) has concealed possession of unpurchased merchandise of a retail mercantile establishment, or (ii) has possession of an item designed for the purpose of overcoming detection of security markings attachments placed on merchandise offered for sale at such an establishment, or (iii) has possession of a recording device in a theater in which a motion picture is being exhibited and a "reasonable time" shall mean the time necessary to permit the person detained to make a statement or to refuse to make a statement, and the time necessary to examine employees and records of the mercantile establishment relative to the ownership of the merchandise, or possession of such an item or device. Such detention at such vicinity shall not authorize the taking of such person's fingerprints at such vicinity unless the taking of fingerprints is otherwise authorized by section 160.10 of the criminal procedure law and are taken by the arresting or other appropriate police officer or agency described therein in accordance with section 140.20 or 140.27 of such law. Whenever fingerprints are taken, the requirements of article one hundred sixty of the criminal procedure law shall apply as if fully set forth herein.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2008
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    9

    Default Re: Are A False Accusation And Refusal Of Detention Grounds For A Lawsuit

    YES! Very close. Thank you for posting that Statute.

    If I can read legal-ese correctly, it basically states - if they have reasonable cause then they can detain, question and so forth. It may be the "detained in a reasonable manner" that's interesting. Does questioning a suspect for the full duration of an investigation in a public area count as "detention"?

    Also, the Statute makes it sound as though a cop and/or Joe Blow (the manager's son acting as security) is protected under this law. Is that correct?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    GA
    Posts
    37

    Default Re: Are A False Accusation And Refusal Of Detention Grounds For A Lawsuit

    They are protected so long as their was probable cause to beleive a crime has been committed. Basicly if a reasonable person was to believe that an indivdual was engaged in the act of theft then yes.

  7. #7
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    Sep 2005
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    California
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    Default Re: Cause For Lawsuit? - False Accusation And Refusal For Detention

    Quote Quoting CarmenLora
    View Post
    Thank you for the quick response, Carl! Greatly appreciated but do I sense hostility? Theft is a VERY serious issue but so is a false accusation. And sensing racially discrimination.
    No hostility, just pointing out a few things. Not the least of which is that there is no indication of racial discrimination in your post at all.

    You may be right that they aren't but there is language on location of investigation. I was hoping for some specific clarity on the statutes on that issue.
    I can't imagine they would mandate that, but New York is free to pass whatever statute they want on the subject. I have never heard of such a thing, but there might be.

    Also, a company can chose to not disclose an employees first and/or last name, but their should be some complicity on there part for clarity or resolution on a customer complaint (e.g. bad customer service = I badmouth the company to everyone I know, Consumerist, BBB and the blogsphere).
    Why should their be "complicity" for refusing to provide a name? Their refusal can be a part of your decision not to shop there again, or part of any legal action you might choose to take. By itself, I don't see that a private business has any obligation to provide you their names.

    The fact that police did not file charges is a GLARING indication that there were questionable issues and had the case gone to court, the charged could have been dropped. Essentially, it would have been a waste of the company's legal department time.
    There are many reasons why the police might not take a report. From what you said, minimum probable cause was met - a manager claimed to have seen you commit the theft. The officers made a discretionary call based on information you may not be aware of. Perhaps the store manager waffled ... perhaps they changed their mind about demanding prosecution ... perhaps the police decided to file the report with the DA rather than cite and release ... perhaps they were just being lazy. All because they did not take action at the scene does not prove that there was no articulable cause for the detention by store personnel.

    To clarify, I spoke to a legal representative for the company and they offered a gift certificate for the confiscated items and stated they would follow-through on my issue regarding detention, video surveillance and staff cooperation in customer complaints. I considered the call a bluff, thus I requested advice from the forum.
    It sounds like they intend to look in to your complaint. Isn't that what you wanted? Or do you want something more?


    - Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"


    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    9

    Default Re: Are A False Accusation And Refusal Of Detention Grounds For A Lawsuit

    Carl,

    You are right on many counts. Your explanation on why the police did not follow through with the case are alarming (laziness?!?) but all are probable. Now I understand the situation from all sides. It's just sad that I had to get this from an online forum and not their legal department.

    Aside from the embarrassment and what I still feel is discrimination (as a woman of color, you KNOW it when you see it), I will obviously never shop there again and neither will any of my friends. My point in creating this hub-bub was to alert staff on trendy new recycling bags and having better customer care - from management down to clerks. The public bullying, the rude behavior on the phone, lack of follow-through - it's all just bad business, hands down.

    I am waiting for a follow-up from their legal department on how they can prevent this from happening in the future - be it to arrest future suspects immediately and let the cops deal with it, detain suspects in a private area for questioning or, better yet, train employees on how not to say "eff you" and "I don't care" on the phone when someone has an issue.

    So, on a side note, what is the difference between a cite and release report and DA report? If it were the latter, would this incident go on my record? A=nd are either reports available to the public (i.e. me)?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    California
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    15,076

    Default Re: Are A False Accusation And Refusal Of Detention Grounds For A Lawsuit

    [QUOTE=CarmenLora;209213You are right on many counts. Your explanation on why the police did not follow through with the case are alarming (laziness?!?) but all are probable.[/quote]
    It's a matter of resources. The police obtain the statements and submit the matter to the DA. They are not going to spend hours and hours tracking down every little lead in what is likely a misdemeanor shoplifting case.

    So, on a side note, what is the difference between a cite and release report and DA report? If it were the latter, would this incident go on my record? And are either reports available to the public (i.e. me)?
    I suspect a "cite and release report" would be one where a citation or summons has been issued to the defendant and a "DA report" is one where a summons is not issued but the matter is referred to the DA for possible prosecution.

    If you were arrested, it should be on your state criminal history. If not arrested, and not prosecuted, then the report would only be a local record at the agency that took the report.

    Whether it is public record or not will depend on the laws in NY and whether the agency classifies this as an investigative file or not.

    - Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"


    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    9

    Default Re: Are A False Accusation And Refusal Of Detention Grounds For A Lawsuit

    I ask about the report because, funny enough, I am interested in taking the police exams and would like a clean slate before I go in for the character test. I think I will follow up with the report, just in case, as office cubicle often say, "to CYA."

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