Wal-Mart Intercom Investigation Points to Shopper

Store says they turned over evidence to authorities

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Friday, Mar 19, 2010  |  Updated 10:38 PM EDT
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Wal-Mart says it may have been a customer who broadcast a hateful message over a South Jersey store's intercom system.

Several shoppers are boycotting the retail giant and its Washington Township, N.J. store after a man said "Attention Wal-Mart customers: All black people leave the store now" over the store's public address system last Sunday.

"It was a disgusting comment," shopper Sheila Ellington said. "Once I heard that, I was absolutely shocked and appalled."


UPDATE: Man arrested for allegedly making the hateful page.


The store manager immediately apologized to angry customers and then admonished the remarks over the same PA system minutes later, shoppers said.

The case is being investigated by Washington Township Police and Gloucester County Prosecutors as a potential hate crime.

Initially it was unclear whether one of the store's 700 associates or a customer were to blame, but Wal-Mart says they've found evidence that a shopper may have broadcast the message. What that evidence may be still remains to be seen.

"At this point, we have no reason to believe that any Wal-Mmart associates were involved," the company said in a statement Friday. "Our investigation determined that a specific customer in the store may be responsible and we have turned this evidence over to the police."

The racist statement was made from one of 25 phones located throughout the sales floor and in areas accessible to employees only.

Authorities previously said surveillance video wasn’t able to yield any clues as not all of the phones were in camera view.

The store has also been criticized for the ease at which anyone could make a storewide page.

Former employee Bill Mitchell said making a page is as simple as hitting a couple of keys on any of the phones.

"They could do better things to secure those phones, but they don't follow those protocols," Mitchell said. "That's Wal-Mart."

The company says they have since changed the phone system to "prevent this from happening in the future."

Police did say they had a few leads they were following, but would not elaborate.

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