Macy’s is being accused of jailing shoplifting suspects who are minorities.
Last September, Maritza Hernandez was detained on suspicion of shoplifting inside the Macy’s on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. She says the security employees who held her captive used a racial slur, accusing Puerto Ricans of being chronic thieves.
“I didn’t know what to say. I said 'look, I’m not out of the store. I just have two pairs of socks,'” Hernandez said.
I-Team: Shoplifting Fines Without Criminal Charges
Hernandez admits to carrying those two pairs of socks in a shopping bag out of plain sight, but she says she had no intention of leaving the store without paying for the merchandise.
Police were never called to investigate in Hernandez’s case, but the suspected shoplifter says security personnel locked her in a holding cell behind the showroom walls and demanded she pay $200 and sign a confession. Demanding cash fines outside the criminal justice system is a legal practice called “civil recovery.”
“I said 'Yes, I’m going to sign it just to walk out of this place.'”
Elina Kazan, a Macy’s spokeswoman, said the store could not comment on Hernandez’s allegations because she has a pending lawsuit against the retailer.
However, Kazan said generally it is unacceptable for customers to carry unpaid merchandise in shopping bags around a store.
“It is not appropriate to walk around the store with concealed merchandise that has not been paid for,” Kazan wrote in an email to NBC 4 New York. “Our shopping bags are provided to customers to transport their merchandise following the purchase of the items.”
Last September, Venezuelan tourist Maria Paez said she too was detained for carrying merchandise in a shopping bag before paying. According to a police complaint, store security inside the flagship Herald Square Macy’s accused her of trying to steal three tops, a pair of pants, and a dress. Paez says she had no intention of walking out of the store with the items before paying, and she refused to sign a confession or pay cash.
“They kept her in this holding cell for three hours, and when it was clear that she wasn’t going to confess to shoplifting, which she didn’t do, and she wasn’t going to pay their $500 get-out-of-jail fee, they called the police,” said Herb Subin, an attorney who represents both Paez and Hernandez in their separate legal action against Macy’s.
Subin says during the hours Paez spent detained in the Macy’s jail and in the Midtown South Precinct, she had no contact with her 12-year-old son, who was left to wander around Macy’s until the store closed.
“She had no way to contact her 12-year-old boy,” Subin said.
Paez lives in her native Venezuela, but rather than accept a prosecutor’s agreement that she do two days of community service in order to have the shoplifting charge dropped, she plans to fly to New York and fight it in court.
Macy’s declined to comment on the details of Paez’s complaint, again citing pending litigation.