Dillard's said it has made internal changes to identify employees "who may need additional training in customer relations." It updated its harassment policy to enable complainants and witnesses to contact the corporate legal office directly instead of going through the local store.

Dillard's has even hired professionals posing as shoppers to record their experiences in stores and says the results were very positive for Dillard's.

Suspected shoplifters must be allowed to exit the store to make sure they are, in fact, shoplifting, Dillard's tells its personnel. Dillard's policies also forbid strip searches and say that handcuffs should not be used unless a suspect poses a threat to customers or to Dillard's personnel. Suspects can be detained for a reasonable amount of time in order to conduct a reasonable investigation. Employees are supposed to approach a customer only after they believe that merchandise has been removed; it is not enough merely to be suspicious of his motives or behavior.

Shannon McDowell, a minister and banking executive, 
used to love shopping at Dillard's.
Margaret Downing
Shannon McDowell, a minister and banking executive, used to love shopping at Dillard's.
Cletus Ernster and Damon Chargois are representing 
more than 100 plaintiffs against Dillard's.
Daniel Kramer
Cletus Ernster and Damon Chargois are representing more than 100 plaintiffs against Dillard's.

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Again, whether these policies are actually carried out is another question. In 1997, a well-dressed African-American woman was strip-searched in a Dillard's in Cleveland, Ohio. No stolen articles were found.

In a 1999 case in Arlington, Texas, a security guard ended up running through the store filled with shoppers, firing at the escaping shoplifter as he chased him onto an elevator.

Roy Don Bearden had boosted a beard trimmer from a nearby Sears store. Caught hiding in a clothing rack in Dillard's, Bearden ran from guard Keith Humphrey, an Arlington police officer working off-duty in the store. Humphrey ended up shooting Bearden four times, killing him. Police said Bearden had threatened to kill Humphrey. A judge dismissed the case, saying it was clear that Humphrey was acting as a police officer.

And as Waggoner testified in his May deposition: "I don't go with all the things that they expect you to go with though on these things. Well like handcuffing prisoners; they don't want you to handcuff a prisoner at the point of arrest out in the store. However, if I feel like for my own safety and the safety of the prisoner requires it, I'm going to handcuff them. So far they haven't fired me for that. But I -- we don't -- enforce house rules…Our policy is you handcuff prisoners."


Houston was the site for one of the most horrific deaths by security guards. A 37-year-old regular Dillard's customer went into its Galleria store and within just a few hours had been trussed up like an animal for slaughter -- handcuffed, hog-tied, his mouth taped shut. Wheeled off the floor in a flatbed dolly, he died in a hospital two days later.

What made it all more incredible was that Darryl Robinson was a churchgoing married man in his mid-thirties who had never been in trouble. A second-generation, off-the-farm-from-Louisiana black man, Robinson drove a delivery truck for a living. On June 1, 1994, he'd gone to church and then headed to Dillard's.

Dillard's maintained that Robinson had undergone a psychotic episode, that he demanded $1 million from a store clerk and jumped up on a counter. Robinson family attorneys agreed there had been an argument but said it occurred while he was trying to withdraw money on a credit card in Dillard's customer service department.

Until recently, Dillard's has not used security cameras in its stores and only now is beginning to introduce them, according to Gene Baker, Dillard's general merchandise manager for Texas, who was deposed last April 24. What this means, Ernster said, is that any dispute over how someone was treated would be a swearing match between the officers involved and the customers. And juries have a tendency to believe police officers.

Denise Robinson, Darryl's widow, didn't know what had happened with her husband, but the Dillard's version didn't fit even if there were 14 affidavits supporting its story and none against it. Denise Robinson made the rounds of attorneys and finally came to the law firm of Doyle, Restrepo, Harvin & Robbins, which took the case just before the statute of limitations ran out.

Initially, Dillard's said Robinson had been high on drugs, but the toxicology report showed nothing, said attorney James Doyle. Later Dillard's said Robinson was mentally ill.

Doyle's firm found another witness in employee Marilyn Steltz, and a different story emerged. She said Robinson volunteered to leave the store after an encounter with assistant manager Kim Wetzel, who'd been called in to settle the dispute between the customer and the sales clerk. Steltz testified that Wetzel was known to be confrontational. She said she heard the argument and saw portions of it but never saw Robinson up on a counter. When security guards Jeff Robinson (no relation) and Collier Bridges showed up, Robinson told them he was kidding, tried to leave and apologized to the clerk and manager. The guards restrained him and forced him into the Dillard's back offices.

According to testimony, the officers began to beat Robinson and "slam his body against the walls, furniture and floor." Wetzel ran out of the office, looking for boxing tape.

They cuffed his hands behind his back, taped his legs and arms and slammed his face against the floor several times, the suit said.

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