A jury in Multnomah County, Oregon has reportedly hit Walmart with $4.4 million in damages after a Portland-area man says he was racially profiled by a store officer for “shopping while Black” and attempting to have him jailed on bogus charges.
According to the The Seattle Times, the accusation was spelled out in a lawsuit filed by Michael Mangum who said he felt “disrespected and embarrassed” after the officer at the Wood Village Walmart began watching him and then summoned police, allegedly falsely claiming Mangum had threatened to smack him in the face.
“When he said he’s going to call the police, I couldn’t believe it, because I hadn’t done anything,” the 61-year-old Black man told The Oregonian in an interview. “The only thing that was going through my mind was, ‘You have the right to be here.’”
The lawsuit has become a landmark test of a recently passed state law that allows lawsuits against anyone who improperly calls law enforcement with the intent to discriminate or humiliate another person or to unlawfully ban them from property.
On March 26, 2020, Mangum stopped by the Wood Village location to buy a lightbulb at around 7:45 p.m. A resident of Fairview said he noticed a store officer in the same aisle. The officer, identified in the lawsuit as Joseph K. Williams, 32, asked Mangum why he was staring at him.
“Well, because you’re looking at me,” Mangum said he replied.
Williams then ordered him to leave the store on the grounds of “because I said so,” according to Mangum. After a back-and-forth between the two men, Mangum said the officer called Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies to the scene and bogusly claimed Mangum had threatened to assault him.
Court records show that when deputies showed up, they interviewed Mangum and Williams as well as a white couple who witnessed what happened and were sympathetic with Mangum’s account.
Mangum’s lawyer Greg Kafoury said Friday’s verdict is the largest amount awarded by a jury in a racial discrimination case in the state’s history. He added that Mangum’s case was particularly egregious considering Walmart knew the theft prevention officer had a history of hyperbole but failed to take any action.
“Walmart has no respect for the community. They have no respect for the rights of their customers, and they have no respect for the police,” he said. “The jurors, they awarded every nickel we asked for.”
Walmart can appeal the verdict or offer a settlement in exchange for not appealing.