Alleged racial profiling at NYC stores sparks outrage, prompts Barneys to review policies

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

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Two major Manhattan retailers are under fire, accused of targeting black shoppers for questioning. Robert Brown, who stars on the HBO series "Treme" has filed a lawsuit alleging he was stopped and detained at Macys. And two young black shoppers have come forward with similar complaints against Barneys,an upscale department store on Madison Avenue.

Barney's 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.

One of the shoppers has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the store, the city and its police department. Another 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 states that he was held in a cell for more than two hours before being released with no charges filed, and blames the incident on "discrimination based on plaintiff's race and age."

Another shopper, 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 CEO of Barneys, Mark Lee, spoke out Thursday and 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.

On Saturday, theRev. Al Sharpton threatened to boycott Barneys if the department store doesn't respond adequately to the racial profiling allegations.

"We've gone from stop and frisk to shop and frisk, and we are not going to take it," said Sharpton. "We are not going to live in a town where our money is considered suspect and everyone else's money is respected."

Kirsten John Foy, an official with Sharpton's National Action Network, said he would meet with Barneys officials on Tuesday to discuss the racial profiling allegations.

The profiling claims also incited criticism on social media and an online petition asking rapper Jay-Z, who is collaborating with the luxury retailer for a holiday collection, to disassociate from the store.

Jay-Z said Saturday he's being unfairly "demonized" for just waiting to hear all of the facts. The rap mogul made his first statement about the controversy in a posting on his website.

"I move and speak based on facts and not emotion," the statement said. "I haven't made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?" he said, referring to local newspaper headlines.

"The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn't want to make without the full facts," he added.

The NYPD said it has received 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.

Macy's was also hit with a lawsuit alleging racial profiling last week.

Actor Robert Brown said Friday that he was stopped by police because of his race while shopping at Macy's flagship Manhattan store. According to his lawsuit, Brown was detained by police June 8 after employees contacted authorities about possible credit card fraud.

Macy's didn't comment on the litigation but said in a statement it was investigating.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it is standard practice for retailers to call police after crimes are committed in stores.

He wouldn't comment specifically about the cases under investigation.