By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Paul Schroeder, Dillard's general counsel, said in a 2001 deposition that the primary reason Dillard's executives employ police officers as security guards is that when they expand into a new area, they don't have any personal knowledge of the community. "We believe that within that community there already exists a group of professionally trained peace officers who provide that very community with exactly the same safe environment in which to live and to work and to raise their kids So our belief is that to use the same law enforcement peace officers that the community has chosen to protect its most valuable and precious asset, its children, is the right thing for us to do."
Schroeder's concern for children is telling, given how Dillard's chooses to deal with them in its stores. Last March 23, LaPrecious Powell, 16, her sister Kellie LeDay, 13, and their nephew Jo'Mari Davis, then 12 months, went to Dillard's men's stores in Beaumont with 17-year-old Joseph McCarty, Powell's boyfriend. Powell and McCarty were going to a school dance that night and they knew Dillard's had nice clothes.
They walked around for a while, holding different shirts up against themselves and then deciding they really didn't like anything and would go to another store.
Suddenly, Officer Jay Waggoner appeared and according to Powell said: "Why are y'all stealing? You need to leave the store." The security guard didn't search them, didn't try to check their bags, just accused them of stealing and told them to leave. As they were going out, Powell said, Waggoner came up close behind her, saying: "I don't want to make you have nightmares in your sleep. I'll put the law in your life." The kids wanted to leave the store the way they'd come in, to go directly to their car. Instead, Waggoner made them go out the long way. He followed them all the way to their car.
LeDay was crying by the time they got home to their mother, Jackie Renfro. Powell said she had nightmares with Waggoner's face in them for days. Renfro, the mother of four daughters, said the girls, both cheerleaders at their schools, had never been in trouble.
Ethel Wilson, Joseph McCarty's mother, was furious. She went to see the Dillard's manager. "I said they didn't steal anything. They had money. Joseph had just gotten his income tax check. They were going to a dance. Stealing was the last thing on their minds." She also went to the police internal affairs division, where she was told Waggoner was a good Christian. Nothing happened.
It is not at all unusual for Dillard's security guards to question juveniles without their parents being present, even when the parents are nearby and request to be present at the interview.
Sixteen-year-old Jeremy Perez of Houston went to Deerbrook Mall with his mother and sister in July 2000. Splitting up from his family, he went to the men's department, where he tried on some shirts. He was heading back to his mother when a security guard ordered Perez to come with him. Perez's mother asked to accompany him, but the security officer refused. He was taken to a back room where officers from the Humble Police Department searched him. He was asked if he was with "the other black boys." No stolen merchandise was found.
Randy Haynes of Port Arthur went to Dillard's to get clothes for his 19th birthday. He was accused of shoplifting by an officer who asked to look in Haynes's pants. The guard took him to a back office and patted him down in front of his crying 14-year-old sister.
Michaela Reneae Merrick was 11 when she was accused of shoplifting a bathing suit at the Dillard's at the Mall of Abilene. Paraded through the store on her way to being questioned, the preteen asked to call her mother and the Dillard's employee said no. No stolen merchandise was found.
Sisters LaQuan Stallworth and Charity Edwards were shopping at Dillard's Parkdale Mall in Beaumont in February 2001 when they also were confronted by security guard Waggoner.
Stallworth, who plays professional basketball overseas, and Edwards, who works as a cashier, said Waggoner accused them of shoplifting without cause, threatened to take them to jail and pushed them out of the store.
Waggoner, an 18-year officer with the Beaumont Police Department, gave a different accounting at his May 22 deposition. Glancing over a grouping of hanging clothes, Waggoner said, he saw sudden movement.
"I'm a hunter. I deer hunt and so motion catches my eyes. And I all of a sudden saw this hand take three shirts down." Waggoner said when he went over to talk with the girls they no longer had the shirts and he found them later crumpled up on the shelf they came from.
The two left the store, then returned to make a complaint about Waggoner's watching them. One woman "adopted a southern plantation slave type of voice and yelled out real loud that she guessed we don't want black folks in our store," Waggoner said, which he added offended him, as race has nothing to do with his actions as a security guard. He said because they were acting so belligerently, he wanted them to leave the store instead of being arrested. He did put his hands on one woman's arm and back, but did nothing to hurt them, he said.