A federal lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas on behalf of two Black men who were handcuffed by white employees while attempting to exchange a defective T.V. The 58-inch television, purchased earlier that day on Sept. 10, 2020, was being carried back into the store by Dennis Stewart and Terence Richardson when the incident happened.
Law enforcement was called on suspicion they stole the device, and the men were placed in handcuffs “despite Stewart, 55, showing store workers the $300.94 receipt for the Hisense television he bought,” according to suit. Walmart Inc. is named as a defendant in the civil suit and Walmart Stores Texas, LLC, and several store employees identified only as John Doe and Jane Doe are also named.
Stewart and Richardson allege they were “falsely imprisoned and discriminated against because of their race,” the lawsuit said. “The moment in handcuffs was so overwhelming and degrading for Stewart, he broke down while detained inside the store,” court records show.
“Plaintiffs repeatedly asked for an explanation for being detained, searched, handcuffed and embarrassed in such a demeaning fashion, and also why the defective television was not allowed to be exchanged,” the lawsuit said. But their questions were met with silence. “It was at this point Dennis, (53), a grown 50-year-old man, began to cry and begged for answers.”
The plaintiffs also allege “breach of contract” because “Stewart was not allowed to exchange the television or get his money back. Employees were also grossly negligent because their actions could have led to Richardson and Stewart being seriously injured by responding police,” the lawsuit said, adding, “Officers could have mistaken the situation and, as Black men, they could have been shot, injured or permanently disfigured.”
The court filing says that Stewart took the television’s receipt to the customer service counter, but the employees “took an hour to examine it.” While waiting at the counter, “four white police officers approached them from behind and instructed them to put their hands on their head, ordered them not to move, searched their bodies and emptied their pockets, and handcuffed them as criminals in plain view of everyone at the vicinity.”
The men were eventually freed. However, as if their ordeal wasn’t enough, they were forced to sign a Criminal Trespass Warning, which guarantees that criminal charges will filed at Walmart if they return. Steward and Richardson said blatantly that they would never return.
Walmart submitted a statement indicating, “We do not tolerate discrimination and take allegations like this seriously. When the claims were brought to our attention in April of this year, we investigated them. We are not getting into further detail given the litigation and will respond as appropriate with the court.”
Stewart is a road foreman and church deacon. He is also a former police officer. Richardson is a church pastor. They are seeking a jury trial as well as compensatory and punitive damages.