Two lifelong friends stepped into a Texas Walmart last year expecting to exchange a defective 58-inch television one of them purchased earlier that day.
Instead, the Sept. 10, 2020, trip to the Walmart in Conroe, Texas, led to theft accusations by white employees against Dennis Stewart and Terence Richardson, who are Black, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas.
The men said a routine trip to the store resulted in police being called on them on suspicion they stole the television. They added that they were placed in handcuffs despite Stewart showing store workers the $300.94 receipt for the Hisense television he bought, according to suit, which names Walmart Inc. as a defendant.
Walmart Stores Texas, LLC, and multiple store employees identified as John Doe and Jane Doe are also named in the civil suit as defendants.
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 filings stated.
“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. The men’s questions went unanswered. “It was at this point Dennis — a grown 50+year old man — began to cry and begged for answers,” according to the suit.
Walmart said in a statement Friday: “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.”
Conroe is about 40 miles north of Houston.
Stewart, 55, works as a road foreman and is a church deacon. He is also a former police officer, the lawsuit said. Richardson, 53, is a church pastor, according to the filing. 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.
“Officers could have mistaken the situation and, as Black men, they could have been shot, injured or permanently disfigured,” the filing said.
Stewart presented the receipt at the customer service counter, the lawsuit said. But employees took an hour to examine it. While at the counter, the lawsuit said, 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.”
While the men remained detained, Stewart cried for about an hour, according to the lawsuit. They were eventually freed from the handcuffs after a female employee screamed at them to take the TV and get the “f— out of this store, and never come f—— back,” the filing said.
In one last indignity, the men, according to the lawsuit, were required to sign a “Criminal Trespass Warning,” which guarantees that criminal charges remain on file at Walmart if the men try to return to the store, the lawsuit said.
According to the suit, Stewart and Richardson are asking for a jury trial as well as compensatory and punitive damages.