Black teenager detained after buying $300 designer belt

Black teenager detained after buying $300 designer belt
Published: 2013 October 23 07:30:59 (3039 Views)
A black teenager is claiming snooty Barneys staff and New York City cops racially profiled him for credit card fraud after he bought a $349 belt.

Trayon Christian, 19, told the Daily News he filed a lawsuit after he was targeted by staff at Barneys' Madison Ave. flagship store and detained by police because they didn't believe a young black man could possibly afford to buy such an expensive belt.

The fashion-forward teen, who lives with his mom in Corona, Queens, is studying engineering at the New York City College of Technology, where he had a work-study job.

Christian said his paycheck had just been direct deposited into his Chase bank account, so he went straight to Barneys on the afternoon of April 29 to buy the pricey Ferragamo belt with a silver buckle and a reversible black and white strap.

"I knew exactly what I wanted," Christian said. He'd seen the belt on a lot of his favourite celebrities, including rapper Juelz Santana.

He said he'd browsed at Barneys before but had never bought anything at the store.

"It was a quick trip. I gave them my debit card, I signed my name," he said.

According to his lawsuit, the clerk asked Christian to show his ID, which he did.

"I showed my state ID," he told The News.

The clerk didn't react as he signed for his purchase and left, he said.

But he got no more than a block from the store when two undercover NYPD detectives stopped him near E. 60th St., the lawsuit said.

"They said my card wasn't real, it was fake. They said someone at Barneys called to report it," said Christian.

The male detectives — whose names he never learned — asked to see ID and look in his bag, he said.

They also asked him if he worked, and where.

"I showed them my school ID and my driver's license," said Christian, who was 18 when the incident allegedly occurred.

"I kept thinking, 'Why is this happening to me?'" he said.

"The detectives were asking me, 'How could you afford a belt like this? Where did you get this money from?'" he said.

He was handcuffed and taken to the 19th Precinct stationhouse, he said.

According to his lawsuit, he was detained in a holding cell for about two hours.

He was then released with his debit card, his belt and an apology from the police, Christian said.

"Mr. Christian was held in police custody for approximately 42 minutes and as soon as we determined that the card was authentic, he was immediately released," said Inspector Kim Royster.

He was never charged, according to his attorney.

"I was nervous the whole time, but not really scared because I knew I had done nothing wrong," said the teen.

After he got home, he got angry.

"I brought the belt back to Barneys a few days later and returned it. I got my money back, I'm not shopping there again," he said. "It's cruel. It's racist."

Calls to Barneys, which is led by CEO Mark Lee, were not returned.

The city Law Department said it hadn't seen the court papers yet.

"We are awaiting a formal copy of the lawsuit and will review the claims upon receipt," said Elizabeth Thomas, a Law Department spokeswoman.

The NYPD said it has gotten 53 grand larceny complaints this year for credit card fraud at Barneys' Madison Ave. store and has made more than 47 arrests. But it's unclear how many of those arrested were actually charged with a crime and how many were, like Christian, released.

Plainclothes officers visit Barneys periodically because of problems with fraudulent use of cards, the NYPD said.

Christian's attorney Michael Palillo said the teen, who now works at Target, has a clean record.

"He's never been arrested. His only crime was being a young black guy buying a $300 belt," the lawyer said.

The student's Facebook page shows pictures of a fashion-loving teen. In some, Christian is sporting various belts with buckles encrusted with glittering "F's" — but it's not clear if they are also Ferragamo items.

He's also seen posing for selfies in a series of baseball caps that have been color-coded to match his clothes, with a gold chain and an earring peeking out.

Christian's mother, Selena Christian, said she was outraged at the upscale store's treatment of her son.

"Barneys said his card was stolen, they said he shouldn't have that much money in his account," said the 40-year-old school bus driver. "I am shocked. He's a good kid."

The hardworking mother could find only one reason for her son to be singled out after he'd shown ID to the Barneys staffer.

"It's because he's an African-American," she said. "It's wrong. They shouldn't have done this."

Being publicly questioned, searched and handcuffed and then detained in a police precinct cell caused Christian "great physical and mental distress and humiliation," the lawsuit said.

"His reputation and character were injured and he was embarrassed," the court papers said.

The incident was due to the "negligence, careless[ness] and recklessness of Barneys" and the undercover detectives, the lawsuit alleges.

- NYDN
Tags: profiling, lawsuit,
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