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Boston Professor 'Humiliated' After Being Accused Of Theft

BOSTON (CBS) - Robert Johnson is a 66-year-old UMass professor, lawyer and community volunteer who never thought a cognac purchase could go so wrong.

"They targeted me because I was a black male," Johnson said.

Three weeks ago, he bought a $30 bottle of Hennessey at Blanchards in Jamaica Plain to share with a cousin visiting from out of town.

Store employees thought Johnson looked a lot like a man caught on store surveillance cameras back in March stealing 20 bottles of cognac from a basement storage room and loading it into a white getaway van.

They took down Johnson's license plate and police showed up at his door on Lakeville Rd the next day, demanding he come to the precinct for questioning.

"[The officer] showed me a picture and said 'this is you on March 13.' I said 'this picture looks nothing like me,'" Robert Johnson said.

Blanchards would not share the surveillance video with WBZ and neither would police. But Johnson says the suspect was much younger and bigger with no facial hair.

"I think a black man coming in buying cognac, I think that's what set them off," Johnson said.

Officers soon cut him loose and Blanchards apologized only after Johnson confronted the store manager and got little respect.

"You're not doing anything wrong and then you get humiliated and you get accused of stealing something, I mean that hurts," Johnson said.

He argues store employees would not have made the same guilty presumption about a white customer.

"I didn't have a suit on like I have on now," Johnson said. "There was no reason to suspect me. I didn't look anything like the person in the picture."

Before Blanchards went silent on the advice of attorneys, they told The Bay State Banner this was simply a misidentification, not racial profiling.

Johnson has already filed a complaint with the city licensing board and is contemplating a civil rights or defamation of character lawsuit.

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