Saturday, July 12, 2008

Customers wrongfully arrested file suit against Wells Fargo

I posted on this story last year when it was first reported.

It all started when a Wells Fargo personal banker called 911.

"We have two males that walked into our branch, possibility of a gun in his pocket," the teller said. "He's sitting down with a personal banker."

A second personal banker then played down the ordeal to the 911 operator and asked for either a plain-clothed officer to take a look or have an officer simply drive by.

The banker told the operator there was not a robbery in progress.

"We're talking to him about a loan that he's doing and everything else and one of our tellers thought that he had a weapon on him," the banker said.

An amateur photographer shot video that showed police enter the bank, handcuff Derrill Ewans and force him to the ground. Officers also surrounded a car where Ewans' girlfriend and her 3-year-old daughter were waiting for him. They handcuffed the mother and put the mother and child into a squad car.

Mr. Ewans and the others are being represented by State Representative Royce West in the lawsuit alleging racial profiling against Wells Fargo.

This story already sounded like an absurd over-reaction on the part of some staff member who has some kind of fear of non-white people, but after reading the details revealed in this new story, it's clear that's exactly what it is.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Royce West, a Democratic state senator from Dallas, said his clients — Derrill Ewans, Camille Lewis, Nithya Saravanan and Saravanan Rathinasabapathy — went to the bank Sept. 8 to close on a vehicle loan. While they were there, a bank employees called police to report suspicious behavior.

Mr. Ewans and Ms. Lewis are African-American. The other two plaintiffs are Indian.

According to the lawsuit, the incident occurred at a Wells Fargo branch on Legacy Drive. Mr. Ewans and Mr. Rathinasabapathy entered the bank, while Ms. Lewis and her 3-year-old daughter waited in her car.

The men spoke to a loan officer for about 25 minutes before Ms. Saravanan joined with a paycheck stub she had been asked to bring.

Mr. West said that a bank teller called police saying the men were acting suspiciously, were constantly on their cellphones and wore sunglasses in the bank.

And, Mr. West said, the teller told police Mr. Ewans appeared to have a gun, “when in fact all he had was a cellphone.” Mr. West said Mr. Ewans had used the cellphone while in the bank to help answer some of the loan officer’s questions.

According to the lawsuit, surveillance photos show that neither man wore sunglasses inside the bank.

I suppose it's possible some bank thieves begin their robbery by sitting down with a loan officer and actually applying for a loan, and I suppose it would be discriminatory of me to rule out that an Indian person could be a bank robber, and I guess a really stupid bank robber might have his wife and 3 year-old out in the car...but come on, this is reality! What's suspicious about people being constantly on their phones at the bank? Look, all of us who serve customers have to deal with the fact that nowadays people will come up talking on their phone at the same time as they're talking with you. There's especially nothing weird about people being on their phones when they're not talking to somebody in front of them! As for the sunglasses I think it's odd for people to wear them inside, but it doesn't really lead to the conclusion that person's a criminal! And what grounds did this teller have for alleging that Mr. Ewans might have a gun in his pocket? Pretty much none except for the fact that they were suspicious of a black guy.

Maybe, possibly, there are other considerations I'm not aware of, but Wells Fargo hasn't done much to refute that interpretation. As a matter of fact, their public relations people are making them sound pretty jerk-ish:

Ms. Bow said in her statement that Wells Fargo has apologized to Mr. Ewans directly, and noted that the company had received a letter from Mr. Ewans’ lawyer “demanding a very large sum of money and threatening us with a press conference.”

Yeah, because it would be so impertinent for a guy to expect a little more than a form-letter apology when you caused him to be hauled out in handcuffs by the police when he went to apply for a loan! If there's anything that proves that this wasn't about some person being afraid of non-white people, Wells Fargo should still do a little more than apologize (like at least give him the amount of the loan, gratis) because it was still wrong. And if it was an incident of racial profiling (or rather, racial fear) then Wells Fargo should lose a few million, that employee should get fired, and they should have to undergo some racial sensitivity training put on by the NAACP or something.

Wells Fargo overall may not have a problem with minorities. But if their employees do, they're still responsible. They need to be reminded that we're past the point where you can chalk up racial discrimination to a mistake. I have to ask: does anybody believe this would happen to two white guys?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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