Update: 'Police Should Not Have Been Called,' Talbots Tells GP Shopper

July 01, 2014, 8:31 AM by  Alan Stamm

Detroit attorney Portia Roberson received an apology from Talbots CEO Michael Archbold for her unpleasant experience Sunday at the chain's Grosse Pointe store, a representative of the chain says. The shopper was questioned and searched on her way out of a dressing room after the store manager called police.

WXYZ reporter Kimberly Craig received this statement Monday afternoon from corporate headquarters in Hingham, Mass.:

We take the claims made by Ms. Roberson very seriously and we are currently investigating all aspects of the incident.  We acknowledge that the police should not have been called and acknowledge that Ms. Roberson’s personal belongings should not have been searched.  

This action was contrary to Talbots policies and practices and was an isolated incident that does not reflect the Talbots culture. All customers are welcome in our stores. Our CEO has reached out directly to Ms. Roberson regarding the incident.  As stated within the corporate responsibility section on our website, Talbots is committed to operating under the highest ethical standards and we take pride in the way we conduct business.

Monday's original article: 

A social media post about a Detroit lawyer's unpleasant suburban shopping experience is framed as a racial profiling example by The Michigan Citizen

Managing editor Zenobia Jeffries on Monday presents a 16-sentence account by Portia Robertson about her visit to Talbots in Grosse Pointe a day earlier. Roberson, 45, directs the Civil Rights and Justice Division in Detroit's Law Department.    

Portia Roberson posts: "My hands were shaking and my voice cracked when speaking." (Facebook photo)

At her Facebook page, visible only to friends, the Wayne State University Law School graduate writes that she entered the Kercheval Avenue store with "a somewhat large bag . . . as well as my purse because I am returning two purchases that I ordered online."

Roberson says she told a clerk that two items for returns were in the bag and that she wanted to look at garments first. She entered a dressing room twice with slacks in different colors, according to her account picked up at the Detroit weekly's website. 

I convince myself that I need both pairs (of course) and leave the fitting room to pay for my items and return the others. When I exit the fitting room, I’m confronted by two Grosse Pointe police officers who ask to search my bag and ask me if I have any merchandise in the bag. I tell them to go ahead and search and point out the items and the receipt.

He tells me it is clear that someone made a mistake and then takes my bag to the store manager to point out that everything that I have in my possession, I have purchased.

Jeffries, who doesn't quote Roberson beyond what was posted online, confirmed with police that officers responded to a call from Talbots on Sunday.

In Roberson's semi-public posting, the former Wayne County assistant prosecutor refers indirectly to a possible racial subtext:

The manager’s explanation was that she had asked the police to do a walk around the store because it was so busy (four customers, including me). I pointed out to her that after searching me, they left without searching anyone else.

I must tell you that my hands were shaking and my voice cracked when speaking. Honestly, I am still shaken. Today, I received a very harsh reminder and I will be calling corporate headquarters in the morning. 

For its part, The Citizen sees the incident unambiguously. Its headline starts with the phrase "Shopping While Black" and says flatly that the Detroit lawyer was "racially profiled in Grosse Pointe."

Read more:  WXYZ

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