Posted on Apr 01, 2006
Jury awards woman $1.2M
Patricia Jackson falsely arrested for shoplifting at Rich's/Macy's
BY MARK RICE
A Columbus woman has won a $1.2 million jury verdict in compensatory damages for being falsely arrested for shoplifting at the Peachtree Mall Rich's store, which now is called Macy's.
The case in Muscogee Superior Court was scheduled to enter a penalty phase Friday, but the lawyers agreed to a sealed settlement, said Judge Robert Johnston.
According to court records and the plaintiff's lawyers, on May 21, 2003, Patricia Gail Jackson, a 56-year-old nurse at The Medical Center, bought some clothing for her terminally ill son, who later died. As she walked through the store toward the exit, she stopped at a table displaying shirts. She reached into her Rich's bag and pulled out a pair of shorts she had bought in the store minutes earlier. She wanted to see if the shorts would match the shirt. After she decided not to buy the shirt, she put the tagged shorts back in the Rich's bag and left the store.
As she walked to her car, two Rich's plainclothes detectives confronted her. They told her she was caught shoplifting. Jackson said she hadn't stolen anything and could show the detectives a receipt for the items in her bag. But the detectives refused to look in her bag or at the receipt. They told her to come with them to the detention room.
Since the detectives weren't in uniform, Jackson was wary and scared. She recalled the kidnapping and murder of Linda Rogers, a mother of three who was abducted from the Peachtree Mall parking lot 10 years ago. So Jackson wouldn't go with the detectives and said she wanted to call the police on her cell phone. The detectives refused, took her cell phone and handcuffed her behind her back. Then they walked her through the store to Rich's detention room.
Rich's female director of loss prevention patted down Jackson. One of the detectives handcuffed her to a metal bar. Jackson started to cry and again asked to call the police. She also asked to call her husband. She was denied both requests. Instead, a detective read her a form that stated she was guilty of shoplifting and was banned from Rich's.
Jackson was detained 10-15 minutes before a detective finally matched her receipt with the items in her Rich's bag. She then was told she wasn't guilty and was free to go. The store manager said she could have a discount on the merchandise she bought.
A jury Thursday gave her gobs more.
Jackson's three lawyers in the case are from Columbus: Charles A. Gower of Charles A. Gower, P.C., and Ben B. Philips and Stephen J. Hodges of Philips Branch.
Against store policy
Philips said the problem began when a surveillance camera caught only a snippet of Jackson's movements -- the part when she put the tagged shorts she had bought back in her bag after trying to match them with a shirt on display. The detectives, both with about a year of experience, violated the store's policy by confronting her despite the surveillance not being complete, he said. Although the detectives testified they were required to handcuff Jackson at the point of contact, the policy states they can use their discretion, Philips said.
The defense lawyer was Glenn Bass of Sommers, Scrudder & Bass in Atlanta. He represented Federated Department Stores, the Rich's/Macy's parent company named in the lawsuit. Bass couldn't be reached for comment Friday, but court records explained the defense's argument this way:
Jackson was observed placing a tagged item into her bag, which loss-prevention personnel believed to be shoplifting. Jackson was uncooperative and became "somewhat animated and moved away" from the detectives. The detectives feared the situation was getting out of control and handcuffed Jackson. When her merchandise was examined in the detention room, Jackson was told a mistake was made, given an apology and immediately released.
The jury decided that wasn't enough, Philips said.
"Part of the compensatory verdict was manifested in the anger they have toward this company for its policy of sweeping up innocent people and not checking their receipts at point of contact," he said. "Our position was that the detention was not reasonable. All they had to do was check her bags, and she could have gone on."
The one time the detectives did follow the store's policy, Gower said, was when they handcuffed Jackson to the bar in the detention room because it was mandatory.
"She could be Grandma Moses, and it wouldn't matter," Gower said. "I think that policy outraged the jury."
The incident has traumatized Jackson so much, Philips said, she still won't go shopping by herself. He said Jackson was unavailable for comment.