Barneys, NYPD under fire for alleged racial profiling

Kayla Phillips says cops were 'very rough' when they shoved her to a wall in subway and accused her of credit card fraud after she bought $2,500 Celine bag at Barneys. Aaron Showalter/NY Daily News via Getty Images

NEW YORK Barneys New York, accused of racially profiling shoppers, has retained a civil rights expert to lead a review of its policies and procedures and has reached out to community leaders to start a dialogue, the Madison Avenue store announced Thursday.

This follows allegations from two black shoppers who have said they were questioned by police after they made expensive purchases at the Manhattan store.

One has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Barneys, the city and its police department; the other has filed a complaint with the city's police watchdog agency.

Student Trayon Christian, 19, said the store and police targeted him in April of this year because they didn't think he could afford a $350 Ferragamo belt.

After buying the belt using his Chase debit card, Christian's attorney Michael Palillo said Christian was stopped less than a block from the store by undercover NYPD detectives.

Palillo said the officers told Christian they had received a call from Barneys telling them that the debit card he used to buy the belt was fraudulent.

Christian, who later returned the belt to the store, said the incident was embarrassing and that the experience has changed him.

"It makes me look at stuff very different based on my race," he told CBS affiliate radio station 1010 WINS.

The lawsuit said he was held in a cell for more than two hours before being released with no charges filed. It said the incident was due to "discrimination based on plaintiff's race and age."

In the second incident, Kayla Phillips, 21, told the New York Daily News and the New York Post she was surrounded by police officers after she left the store in February having purchased a $2,500 Celine handbag.

She said they demanded to know why she used a debit card without a name on it.

Phillips explained it was a temporary card, and after showing police identification and a new debit card that had arrived in the mail that morning, they let her go.

The store has retained San Francisco attorney Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to lead the review.

The president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, Kirsten John Foy, and the CEO of Barneys, Mark Lee, spoke Thursday and plan to meet next week, Sharpton's spokeswoman Rachel Nordlinger said.

The civil rights group said earlier it would picket the store if the pattern of racial profiling alleged by the shoppers doesn't stop.

Lee offered his "sincere regret and deepest apologies."

"We are conducting a thorough review of our practices and procedures as they relate to these matters to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality," he said in a statement.

Rapper Jay-Z, pictured with wife Beyonce, is collaborating with Barneys for a holiday collection.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

The profiling claims also incited criticism on social media and an online petition asking rapper Jay-Z, who's collaborating with the luxury retailer for a holiday collection, to disassociate from it. So far, the artist has not responded to requests for comment.

The NYPD said it has gotten 57 grand larceny complaints this year from Barneys for credit card-related fraud.

Police said they've made 11 credit card-related arrests and more than 50 larceny arrests at the store.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it's standard practice for Barneys and other retailers to call police after crimes are committed in stores.

He wouldn't comment specifically about the two cases under investigation but said no detectives were stationed in or near Barneys.

In a statement released this week on its Facebook page, Barneys denied that it was involved in any detention, saying "that after carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale."

"Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights," the statement said.

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