Lawsuit: Mother detained, accused of stealing from Dillard’s in Jacksonville due to her race

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A mother is now filing a lawsuit against Dillard’s after she said she experienced one of the most mortifying times of her life at their location in the St. Johns Town Center.

On Wednesday afternoon, civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand held a news conference to announce the lawsuit.

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The mother said she was falsely imprisoned and detained in the Dillard’s with her 2-month-old son, and she believes it was because of her race.

Destiny Aeinpour, a Black woman, said she was accused of stealing a dress from the store in October 2018. Almost four years later, she said she rarely goes into a store anymore.

“It was definitely one of the most mortifying and emotional times of my life,” said Aeinpour.

One of Aeinpour’s attorneys, Jasmine Rand, said Aeinpour believes she was targeted because of her race.

“Destiny went to the Dillard’s store in St. Johns town Center, with her 2-month-old son she was pushing through the store in a stroller,” Rand explained.

Aeinpour said she was followed and approached by an employee in the middle of the store, who accused her of stealing a dress.

“When you’re a new mother, all you want to do is protect your child. And when you have no idea what’s going on, you’re being yelled at, you’re being accused for something that you didn’t do, no one is listening to you, comments are being made to you about what they think you did — it definitely has carried on with me,” Aeinpour said.

Rand says Aeinpour had another dress with her that she had already purchased from a different store in the shopping center.

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“Destiny did not conceal the dress, she showed the employee that the dress was, in fact, from another store in the same plaza. And the ticket of the dress had the name of the store, but the harassment, the racial profiling, (the) discrimination did not stop there,” Rand said.

Aeinpour described what happened next, which included a manager getting involved, as well as a loss-prevention employee who detained her and her 2-month-old son.

“Not being heard, or when I’m trying to explain what’s going on, not being able to call my husband,” Aeinpour said.

Rand continued by sharing that Aeinpour and her son were kept in a room for more than a half-hour.

Eventually, Dillard’s determined that Aeinpour did not steal and she was able to leave.

But she said the feelings left behind after the incident still linger.

Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole called and emailed Julie Guymon, with Dillard’s Corporate Office, to ask about this lawsuit. She responded via email, saying: “We are respectfully declining comment as a matter of policy.  We do not comment on pending legal matters.”

“It’s just nothing that I’ve ever experienced before, and never want to experience ever again,” Aeinpour declared.

Attorneys Crump and Rand say this is not the first time the department store chain has falsely accused customers of color of shoplifting.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Rand mentioned another woman they’re helping who had a similar experience at a Dillard’s in Tennessee.

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Her name is Artelia Phelps.

Phelps said she was falsely accused of stealing the shoes and pants she wore into the store on Nov. 3, 2020. She was in tears explaining what happened to her.

“It’s a little difficult for me to talk about it, because I’m still dealing with this, with the trauma of it all,” said Phelps.

Phelps said she went to look for some evening gowns at Dillard’s Chattanooga location, when she was accused of stealing her own shoes and jeans that she wore into the store.

“I have never felt so degraded and humiliated in my life. I shop for a living, for work.

I work in TV and film, so we often have to do wardrobe and shop for all types of things for my clients,” Phelps explained.

Rand, representing Phelps, said she was placed in handcuffs in front of other customers.

“In front of the entire store, in front of everybody, just search to me,” said Phelps.

Rand and Crump said Dillard’s has a pattern and practice of falsely accusing Black customers of shoplifting throughout the nation.

Attorney Rand mentioned examples dating all the way back to 2001.

Attorney Crump tweeted out a video in March of a woman of color accused of stealing a Louis Vuitton bag, from a Dillard’s in Louisiana, that already belonged to her.

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“In 2017, a musician and his entourage were racially profiled at a Dillard’s store in Mississippi, where they were called the ‘N-word’ and were removed from the store for no reason at all. A woman in that entourage actually went into preterm labor and gave birth to her child, because of the harassment and the stress that was caused,” Rand added.

″60 Minutes” also did a special back in 2001, reporting on evidence that security officers employed by Dillard’s, engaged in racial profiling and have used excessive force.

Phelps said the inhumane way they handled her felt like it was just a part of their culture.

“I just felt like this is what they do. This is normal behavior for them, this is what it felt like,” Phelps said, with sadness in her voice.

Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole emailed Guymon for comment about the four other incidents mentioned by Rand. She did not respond before this story aired.

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