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‘Don’t Say Anything Stupid, Because You’re Just Going to Get Arrested’: Black Man Handcuffed After Bank Falsely Claims His Paycheck Was Fake

Joe Morrow, a Minnesota man, was the victim of what many call “banking while Black” after being put in handcuffs after attempting to cash his paycheck inside a U.S. Bank branch in suburban Minneapolis in October 2020.

Morrow told KSTP-TV reporters that despite having an account with the bank, employees at a branch in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, “were all looking at me and just staring at me and then looking at the check and then staring at me again. And I’m already knowing what they’re thinking — that the check fake.”

Joe Morrow (KTSP Screengrab)

Morrow, who moved to Minnesota from Mississippi last year and worked as an “order picker,” said the incident began well before the police had arrived at the bank where he attempted to cash a check for roughly $900. The man said he was informed by the bank’s manager, John Askwith, that the check was fraudulent and that “you people always coming in here with fake checks.”

According to the police report obtained by the station, there had been an increasing amount of fake checks coming to that specific location. 

When Sgt. Justin Pletcher arrived, police body camera footage showed Morrow already in Askwith’s office, leaning back in a chair, hands folded. The 23-year-old maintained that the check was indeed real. 

“I work there, bro. And I’m going to report you too, bro, this is racial,” Morrow was heard saying calmly, without expletives, to the manager before he was cautioned about his allegations of racial profiling.

“Joe, I need you to calm down, first of all, OK? Don’t say anything stupid, because you’re just going to get arrested for it,” the officer then warned Morrow. 

Soon afterward, another police officer arrived. The manager, who is blurred in the video, told authorities that the check was fake and that he had already confirmed it with Morrow’s employer. However, it was later proved that Askwith only called for verification after Morrow was removed from his office. When he did, the employer told him the check was genuine. 

The video shows Morrow quickly getting up from the chair, whereupon he is immediately put in handcuffs. “When I’m coming out of office, I was handcuffed. … People were looking … like I’m a criminal or something,” Morrow said.

Pletcher claimed in his report that Morrow was detained after he “flexed at John in a threatening manner,” but Morrow denies those allegations. 

“I didn’t threaten him. I got up, like, I’m …” he explained. “The guy told the officer, ‘Can you get him out of my office? He might take something on my desk.’ That’s when I got super mad. ‘I’m going to touch something on your desk?’”

The clip sparked outrage from people online. One Twitter user wrote, “This is exhausting.”

Others called on separate companies who do business with the bank to boycott. “Hi @kroger, your credit cards are issued by @usbank. This is abhorrent service by a US Bank employee,” wrote another person. “Very discriminatory behavior towards this Black customer. As a result, I will be canceling my Kroger’s card! This is 2021 AND NOT 1950.”

According to the news station, the bank reached a settlement with Morrow almost two weeks after the incident took place, although details of the agreement have not yet been made public. 

The bank initially claimed “we dispute the facts as they’re being portrayed” when contacted in October by KTSP. Lee Henderson, a spokesperson for U.S. Bank, said then that Morrow’s race had nothing to do with how the bank employees treated him.

“After a thorough internal investigation, there is nothing to indicate that the customer’s race or ethnicity played a factor in the service he received at this branch,” Henderson said.

By this week the bank was more contrite, with U.S. Bank CEO Andy Cecere issuing a statement Friday, Dec. 10, that said in part: “I am deeply sorry for where we have failed. What Mr. Morrow experienced is not the experience that any customer should have. … Sometimes, unfortunately, we don’t live up to our goals.”

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