Three Black teenagers were handcuffed, wrongfully detained and accused of shoplifting at a California Target store during a grand theft investigation on the night of January 17.
The Ventura County Star reported that 16-year-olds Gregory Kim and Aaron Frederickson were walking home from a church service with 17-year-old Malik Aaron when they decided to take a detour to grab snacks from Target.
Aaron said the three of them did not know about a shoplifting incident that occurred while they were patronizing the store. Police said the theft suspects smashed through the glass in the electronics area of the store and stole several smartphones.
"We were being followed in the store by an employee who told us, 'Hey, I can't have you guys loitering,'" Aaron said.
The 17-year-old said that he and his friends tried to leave the store without buying anything after the employee's warning. Upon reaching the exit, they found it was being blocked by shopping carts. Target security staff prevented them from leaving but Aaron said other guests of the store were allowed to leave without issue.
When three deputies from the Lost Hills Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department arrived, they detained the three teenagers near the front of the store. Authorities later said they detained the group of teens after they were identified as the suspects by the store's loss prevention team, according to The VC Star.
Aaron said he went to capture the encounter on his phone but was prevented by a deputy. His mother, La Shaun, said one of the deputies allegedly slapped the phone out of his hand and pushed him into a counter, New York Daily News reported. However, a friend named Lydia was able to record a part of the altercation on her cellphone.
In the video, the teenagers try explaining their innocence to the deputies while detained. Aaron can be seen in the footage being handcuffed by a deputy as he was bent over the counter. The 17-year-old said he was taken outside of the establishment and placed in a police vehicle for almost 20 minutes before he was released from police custody.
Capt. Sal Becerra of the LASD Lost Hills Station underscored the wrongful detainment of the teens in a statement on Friday afternoon.
"The deputies confirmed a grand theft had in fact occurred, but their subsequent investigation revealed the young men were not involved; they were released without incident," the statement read according to The VC Star.
Bacerra’s statement also revealed that an internal investigation found no evidence that deputies used excessive force or caused any damage to their cellphones.
"I am beyond angry. Heartbroken. Sickened. My son and his friends are hurt," La Shaun wrote in social media post regarding the issue.
“They were targeted because they were children of color,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “They were automatically associated with people that had committed a crime because they were also Black.”
La Shaun has since brought on attorney Toni Jaramilla to file legal action arguing that the encounter violated her son's civil rights. She disputes the LASD account determining excessive force was not used during the arrest.
"We want this stuff to end. We want to feel safe in our communities," she said.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who's represented a large number of victims of police brutality, said the unfortunate incident is another instance of institutional racism, and that the group was doing nothing to be targeted by the staff.
“Corporations like @Target must stop profiling young Black men! Another case of #ShoppingWhileBlack where those in power judged Black teens as guilty until proven innocent. Hold companies accountable for racial profiling & force them to change their ways. Our kids deserve better!” Crump wrote on Twitter.
Corporations like @Target must stop profiling young Black men! Another case of #ShoppingWhileBlack where those in power judged Black teens as guilty until proven innocent. Hold companies accountable for racial profiling & force them to change their ways. Our kids deserve better! pic.twitter.com/w5GR72IBUC
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) January 25, 2021
Target responded to the lawyer’s tweet by offering a formal apology to all the affected parties and announcing that all team leaders will take racial bias training.
We expect our team members to follow Target’s security processes and treat all guests with respect. Additionally, all leaders at the store will retake mandatory security and racial bias training.
— Target (@Target) January 25, 2021
The store also terminated the security team member who was directly involved.