GREENBELT, Md. — A $85 million civil case against Eddie Bauer, involving an off-duty police officer who in 1995 allegedly mistreated three African American teenaged shoppers, opened Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
“We do not stand behind Officer (Robert) Sheehan, who has his own lawsuit and his own problems,” said Gordan Ivey, a Washington lawyer representing Eddie Bauer in the case in an opening statement. “We’re not defending the officer’s conduct, and we’re not embracing the officer’s conduct.”
In the suit, Alonzo Jackson, now 18, alleges that during an Oct. 20, 1995 shopping trip to a temporary warehouse store in Prince George’s County, Md., he was ordered by a white security guard to produce a receipt for an Eddie Bauer shirt he was wearing. Jackson could not produce one. He said he purchased the shirt the day before, and claims he was ordered to leave his shirt at the store until he returned with the receipt.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s two friends, Marco Cunningham and Rasheed Plummer, say they were detained by a second white security guard. Both guards are off-duty Prince George’s County police officers.
Calling the incident a case of “commercial racism,” the plaintiffs are making four charges: false imprisonment, defamation, negligent supervision and, in Jackson’s case, violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Meanwhile, Bloomingdale’s has been hit by two similar lawsuits involving allegations of racial bias. A lawsuit filed Sept. 24 charges that a father and son were strip searched after being falsely accused of shoplifting at a store in Hackensack, N.J.
According to the suit filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Bergen County, the father and his then six-year old son, both African-Americans, went to the store on Feb. 6. After the son tried on some children’s apparel, the two were stopped by security guards and accused of shoplifting, the suit said.
According to the suit, the guards, who are white, frisked the father and son, and the father was told to remove his pants and remove his son’s pants. No stolen merchandise was found.
The suit charges false imprisonment, intention to inflict emotional distress, assault and battery, violations of privacy, slander, racism, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. No amount was given.
Federated said it does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit prompted a lawyer to show a tape to the media where security guards are seen beating and handcuffing a customer at Bloomingdale’s in Short Hills, N.J., in August 1995.
The tape shows Rashawn Carter, an African American, getting his face smashed into a table and being handcuffed after he allegedly refused to accompany two guards to the security office. Carter, who says he was returning a sweatshirt, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, charging assault and battery, negligence, false arrest and civil rights violations. The suit was filed in State Superior Court for Essex County in 1996.
A statement by Bloomingdale’s said the tape “provides only an incomplete picture of the situation” and a “one-sided image,” and that Carter had a criminal record. Bloomingdale’s also said it provided the tape to law enforcement authorities and that Carter agreed never to enter any of its stores after an incident two months earlier at its 59th Street store.
Carter, 23, acknowledged some shoplifting offenses that took place at the time he was 17 or 18 but said he had no felony convictions. He said he had brushed up against a store employee at the 59th Street store, and signed a document agreeing not to return to that store.

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