Attorney: Client Was Arrested for "Banking While Hispanic"
Her attorney calls it a case of “banking while Hispanic.”
Erandy Pacheco, a Mexican American, calls it one of the great humiliations of her life.
Pacheco, 35, a Spanish-speaking translator, had stopped at the Fifth Third Bank on Coolidge in Berkley June 20 to deposit a U.S. Treasury check for just under $10,000 she received for work on a criminal case for the U.S. District Court in Detroit.
Instead, she was arrested, handcuffed in the bank and taken to the Berkley police station on suspicion of trying to pass off a fraudulent check.
Problem was, the check was real.
“It was the most shocking moments of my life,” said Pacheco, who has lived in the U.S. since December 2006.
She believes the bank overreacted because she is Hispanic.
“There’s no other explanation,” she said. “I understand if they thought the check was suspicious, but I don’t understand how I was suspicious.”
Her lawyer, Jack L. Jaffe, who filed a lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court this week against the bank and police department for falsely accusing her of passing a bad check, echoes her sentiments.
Pacheco grew up and was educated in Mexico, where she earned an undergraduate degree in English. She came to the U.S. in 1997 and now lives with her husband, a lawyer, in Ferndale. Her formal name -- Erandy Pacheco Salazar -- is on the lawsuit, but she goes by Erandy Pacheco.
The incident began when she showed up at the bank around 3:30 p.m. She had been banking there for a couple years.
She had a check from the U.S. Treasury for $9,540. Her 52-year-old mother, Maria, was with her. She is from Mexico and does not speak English. It was her first visit to the U.S.
While her mother sat in the lobby, Pacheco went up to the teller window to deposit the check. She waited several minutes while the bank processed it. She was patient. Then, according to the lawsuit, the teller took the check to a bank manager, Surab M. Deb, who concluded the check was “suspicious,” according to the suit.
“Without any investigation to determine the validity of the U.S. Treasury Check, Mr. Deb contacted or instructed another person to contact Berkley Police,” the suit said.
Deb then came out to talk to Pacheco and asked about the source of funds for the check. She told him she was a translator and had done work for an attorney in a criminal case in federal court.
They talked for about five minutes until two Berkley Police officers walked up.
At that point, Pacheco said, “I actually asked the people if something was wrong. They never told me.”
She was handcuffed in front of customers and finally told the check was suspicious. Her mother was sitting in the lobby.
“It happened so fast,” Pacheco said. “I was in shock. I felt embarrassed. I felt worried. I felt scared. I couldn’t believe his was happening.” She was also worried about her mother, and that after all the work she had done in the criminal case, that maybe she had been given a bad check.
Police drove mother and daughter to the station separately. Her mother sat in the police lobby, sobbing.
In his report, one of the arresting officers, Gregory Betts wrote: "The check had some errant typing on it as well as a different style of computer printing. I also observed that the routing numbers and bank account numbers on the bottom were blotchy. The check appeared not to be a valid check upon looking at it."
At the station, the police report said, a detective, Sgt. Michael Crum, questioned her about the check and she told him the same story she had given the bank manager. The sergeant also spoke to her husband, Leonid Garbuzov, an attorney, who had come to the station.
According to a police report, Sgt. Crum made several phones calls to determine if the check was legitimate. After detaining Pacheco for about two hours, police released her to the custody of her husband, who is also named as a plaintiff in the suit. The police kept the check.
“The next morning, on June 21, Sgt. Crum was able to determine the check was valid by speaking to someone at the IRS,” the police report said. Her check was returned and her “information was deleted from the fingerprint data base.”
A bank manager, who declined to give his name, said the bank was not going to provide any information. He did, however, say that Deb, the manager, no longer worked for Fifth Third Bank.
Berkley Police Chief Richard Eshman said Thursday that he had not seen the lawsuit.
"It's pending litigation. I'll review it and discsus with the attorney and get back with you," he said.
Berkley Police Sgt. Crum did not return multiple phone calls. Officer Betts was on vacation and could not be reached.
Pacheco and her attorney ask why the bank couldn’t have put a hold on the check until it was verified, even if it took more than a day.
That would have made sense, says Pacheco, who is still angry about the incident. She said she’s also bothered that when she and her husband returned to the bank two days later to close her account, the same manager was very rude and unapologetic.
“Of course I’m angry,” she said. “More than angry, I’m outraged.”