Retail giant Target has issued an apology after three Black teenagers were wrongfully detained at a Los Angeles store location earlier this month.
A viral video captured via cellphone shows several Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies holding the teens’ hands behind their backs during a grand theft investigation inside the Westlake Village store.
In an apology statement related to the incident, Target announced that the security team member involved had been terminated.
One of the teenagers, 17-year-old Malik Aaron, told CBS Los Angeles that he and four friends were walking home from church on Jan. 17 when they stopped at the Target to purchase snacks.
The group witnessed a separate group of males steal iPhones and leave the store, and afterward an employee began to follow the group around and accused them of loitering, according to Aaron.
“We were walking around and we saw some kids steal some phones,” said 16-year-old Aaron Frederickson, another one of the detained teens.
When the group tried to leave, they realized Target employees had blocked the exit with shopping carts.
“They wouldn’t let us leave at all, but they were letting other people leave,” said Aaron.
Three deputies arrived and detained the teens near the front of the store. One teen was placed in handcuffs and put in a police car for 20 minutes before he was released. A friend of the detained teens filmed the encounter on a cellphone.
Aaron’s mother, La Shaun Aaron, also said a deputy slapped her son’s phone out of his hand when he attempted to film the situation, and said it was her son who was thrown into the back of a patrol car.
“They were really rough with us and it kind of hurt me,” said 16-year-old Greg Kim, who was also detained.
The teens were released and no arrests were made.
Aaron’s mother posted the footage of the incident to Facebook. She said she believes the teens were racially profiled.
“They were targeted because they were children of color,” the 43-year-old mom told the Los Angeles Times. “They were automatically associated with people that had committed a crime because they were also Black.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Sal “Chuck” Becerra said the teens were detained by the store’s loss prevention officers and were released after it was discovered that they were not involved in the grand theft.
Becerra said there was no evidence that the deputies used physical force when detaining the teens, and denied that a deputy had damaged the teen’s phone.
Evidence does not show “any allegations of wrongdoing, use of force, violation of our department policies, or violation of any laws on behalf of the deputies,” the sheriff’s captain wrote on the department’s Facebook page.
Attorney Toni Jaramilla, who will file a suit against Target on behalf of the three families in connection with the incident, questioned how the Sheriff’s Office reached the conclusion that no polices had been violated so quickly, and said Target should consider promotional practices to ensure greater diversity among management.
In a statement, Target announced the termination of one security member involved, and shared that racial bias training would be mandatory for all leaders at the store.
“We want all Target guests to feel welcome and respected whenever they shop in our stores, we’re deeply sorry for what happened and we’ve terminated the security team member who was involved. What happened to these guests is in direct opposition to the inclusive experience we want all our guests to have,” the statemnet said. “Our security team member took action and stopped these guests in violation of Target’s security procedures. We expect our team members to follow Target’s security processes and treat all guests with respect. Additionally, all leaders at the store will retake mandatory security and racial bias training. Finally, and most importantly, we’re reaching out to all of the guests who were involved to offer a personal apology.”