A New York couple says they were racially profiled and harassed by a group of security guards who repeatedly accused them of stealing a shirt from the gift shop — all while the man was attempting to propose to his girlfriend.
Cathy-Marie Hamlet detailed the incident in a Facebook post, saying she, her fiancé, and six of their friends had driven down to the Angry Orchard farm in Walden, New York, for what was supposed to be “one of the best days of my life.” Their plans were quickly soured, however.
Hamlet said she and her fiancé, Clyde Jackson, were sitting at a table outside the orchard’s gift shop Sunday when they were approached by a white female security guard who accused them of stealing a T-shirt and asked Jackson to empty his back pockets.
“My boyfriend walked me out to an empty table on the lawn, and before we could sit down, a young lady from security approached us and said to him, “I’m sorry sir, but I have to check you back pocket. I was told that you stole a T-shirt from from the gift store,’ ” Hamlet, 32, recalled.
Hamlet, who’d driven up from Manhattan, said her boyfriend complied, all “while still trying to keep the ring box hidden from my sight.”
The security worker eventually walked off, only to interrupt the couple a few moments later.
“My boyfriend and I sat down at the table, [and] he began his proposal speech,” she continued. “MID PROPOSAL, the same young woman from security walks back towards and says to me, “I am sorry, I need to check your bag. I was told that he gave it to you, and you put it in your bag. ‘ ”
Hamlet noted that her bag isn’t large enough to fit a T-shirt, but emptied its contents anyway before questioning the employee’s intent.
“I said, ‘I know you’re just doing your job, but I can’t help but wonder if this is because we’re Black. We’re the only Black people at your establishment.’ ” The security guard denied approaching the couple because of their race and left after her search for the T-shirt turned up empty yet again.
The harassment didn’t end there, however. Hamlet said the security guard interrupted them for a third time after her boyfriend popped the question. She accepted, and the couple’s friends came rushing out to congratulate the husband and wife to-be.
“Then surprise, surprise…the same young lady from security walks over to the group of us and says, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you all were a part of the same party. I’ll have to check all your purses and pockets,’ ” she wrote. “So at this point, the rest of security walks over and there’s 6 of them approaching us.”
Hamlet told NBC News she felt especially humiliated after one of her white friends offered to have security search her purse, but they refused. She said the guards became increasingly “aggressive” and claimed to have witnessed her boyfriend swipe the T-shirt and stuff it in her bag.
Recalling the harrowing incident, Hamlet said one of the security guards instructed the other to “call the police,” at which point she and her friends decided to leave.
“It started to get confrontational and I wasn’t interested in waiting around for the police because we didn’t know what would happen,” she told the outlet.
After asking security to pull the surveillance tapes to prove their innocence, Hamlet said the guards began taking pictures and filming the group, and even snapped a photo of their license plate as they left the orchard.
Taylor Roy, a senior communications specialist at Boston Beer Company, which owns Angry Orchards, said the company has since reached out to the couple in an effort “to try to make things right and prevent something like this from happening again.”
Roy told NBC News that while incident was based on what security thought was a “credible claim,” the situation was “mishandled” and now the brand will take steps to provide additional training for its staff.
On Facebook, Hamlet wrote that the incident brought her to tears.
“I have never been so humiliated in my life,” she said, recalling how security followed the group out into the parking lot. “As a doctor, I have no reason to steal a $28 T-shirt when I could afford to buy ALL of the T-shirts in their gift shop!”
Addressing the orchard directly, Hamlet wrote: “If you don’t want Black People buying your product or frequenting your establishment, then maybe put a sign on the door so that we know we are not welcome. I love hard cider, but Angry Orchard will never touch these lips again.”