Hobby Lobby employees called cops on black customer who apparently looked like a crime suspect
iStock/Thinkstock(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) — An African-American man went to a Hobby Lobby store in Alabama to return some merchandise this week when employees called the police because he vaguely resembled a suspect in a check-cashing scheme, he told ABC Birmingham affiliate WBMA-TV.
Brian Spurlock, telling the station he was racially profiled, said he was needlessly embarrassed Tuesday when police confronted him and asked for his identification in front of other customers at the Hobby Lobby store in nearby Trussville.
The Birmingham man was with his girlfriend and her children when the incident occurred at the national arts-and-crafts retailer, he told WBMA-TV.
“These folks look at me like, ‘Oh, he stole something. Oh, he did something wrong.’ Y’all embarrassed me and [that] hurt,'” Spurlock said of the incident in the interview with WBMA-TV. “That made me feel like I don’t need to go in no stores no more because I look like somebody and [police] might arrest me.”
ABC News has been unable to reach Spurlock.
Hobby Lobby’s corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, did not respond to ABC News’ multiple telephone calls and emails seeking comment.
The Trussville Police Department confirmed in a statement to ABC News that officers were called to the store Tuesday when an employee reported that Spurlock looked like a suspect who “had written bad checks and made fraudulent returns to their store.”
“Hobby Lobby did have a picture of the person that was writing bad checks and making fraudulent returns and it looked somewhat like the person in the store but it did not appear to be him,” police Lt. Phil Dillon said in the statement.
He said an officer asked to see Spurlock’s identification before letting him go.
Spurlock said he had receipts for the items he was returning to the store and showed them to an employee before police arrived.
“She was looking at the receipt that I had and scratching the item off on the receipt. And she said, ‘Hey, let me get my manager to see if we [can] return this,” Spurlock told WBMA-TV.
When he spoke to a manager, Spurlock said, she told him he couldn’t return one of the items because the box was open and that he needed to contact the manufacturer.
“I said, ‘Is there somebody else I can talk to that can assist me with this?’ She said, ‘Yeah, wait,'” Spurlock told WBMA-TV.
The manager asked for his ID and told him they were calling their corporate headquarters, he told the station. As he waited for an answer, a police officer showed up and confronted him.
Spurlock’s girlfriend, Ashley Maddox, who witnessed the incident, posted a cellphone video on Facebook of Spurlock’s speaking with the store employee apparently after he was questioned by police.
“I’ll be glad to talk to you … we apologize for the situation,” a store employee tells Spurlock in the video. “We were just following directions from our upper management.”
In an interview with WBMA-TV, Maddox referred to the outspoken Christian beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby, who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 that it shouldn’t be required to supply birth control to employees under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“This is supposed to be a Christian store, so why not support the Christian,” Maddox said. “But, unfortunately, they’re the wrong kind of Christians.”
Spurlock’s ordeal is the latest in a string of recent incidents in which businesses have come under fire after employees called police on black patrons in incidents that appeared not to warrant police intervention.
In April, top officials of Starbucks apologized to two black men who were arrested after a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called police because they occupied a table without making a purchase and refused requests to leave. Trespassing charges against the men were later dropped and the city’s police chief also issued an apology for the arrests.
Earlier this month, the president of Nordstrom Rack flew to St. Louis to personally apologize to three African-American teenagers whom employees called the police on and wrongfully accused of shoplifting.
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