In a recent case, a patron (who was a frequent shopper at an upscale retailer), traveled to the Beverly Hills store on in order to return a sweater. He entered the store just before 3:00 p.m. with a store bag containing the sweater. He looked around a bit for something that he may possibly want to exchange for the sweater. While walking around the store, the customer noticed two people who he believed were watching him. He didn’t think too much of it before selecting a pair of pants and walking into the dressing room area. The pants the client tried on were a high fashion “skinny fit” pair of jeans, but he could barely get them over his upper leg. He took them off, left them in the changing room and went back and gave the sweater to the saleswoman to begin his exchange.
As the saleswoman began the exchange, Mr. Ralph's client saw a jacket and went over to it and tried it on. He ultimately decided against the jacket so he returned to the customer service counter and completed his exchange. The client then exited the store.
As the innocent customer stepped out of the store he was approached by the two loss prevention agents he had seen earlier. They said they wanted to ask him some questions, and they brought him back inside to a room where they accused him of trying to steal the pants. The loss prevention agents and a store manager made several attempts to coerce the client into signing a piece of paper admitting guilt. When the client refused, the accusations continued and a report for the police was apparently prepared. During this time, it was becoming more and more apparent the client was being detained for damaging the pants, as opposed to attempting to steal them.
It is important to note that this customer did not have any ink on him and the loss prevention agents refused to show him the pants. He also possessed several hundred dollars in cash as well as credit cards in his wallet. After several hours, the police were summoned, and the client was taken into custody. The store's agents insisted on arresting the client for vandalism, and he was taken out of the store in handcuffs.
At the police station, this wholly innocent shopper was fingerprinted and put in a holding cell and then a single cell. After posting the $1,000.00 bond and having his background checked for prior convictions and/or warrants (of which there were none), the client was released sometime between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
THE MERCHANT'S PRIVILEGE
In general, merchants are protected from civil liability for false imprisonment by a common law privilege that permits the merchant to detain for a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner for investigation any person whom the merchant had probable cause to believe had unlawfully taken or attempted to take merchandise from the premises. (See Collyer v. S.H. Kress Co. (1936) 5 Cal.2d 175; People v. Zelinski (1979) 155 Cal. Rptr. 575, 594 P.2d 1000) The “merchant's privilege” has been codified as subdivision (f) of California Penal Code section 490.5. In this case, however, there was no cause whatsoever to believe the client had stolen or attempted to steal anything. The arrest for vandalism was a thinly veiled attempt to cover the unlawful detention for shoplifting. The ruse did not work as the criminal charges were dropped, and Mr. Ralph successfully pursued the retailer for unlawful arrest. The matter was settled for a confidential sum.
Compensation for the victims of store security misconduct should be an important concern for all Californians. When an innocent patron is apprehended and then arrested by security, without adequate cause, the retailer should be held accountable and compensation paid to the victim. An Orange County false arrest attorney with experience at handling such cases can make a fair assessment of these claims. Mr. Ralph has nearly 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases, including just this type. He can be reached at 714-919-4415 for a FREE CONSULTATION.
Have you been a victim of an unlawful arrrest by store security?
- This posting should not be construed as legal advice or an opinion on the merit of any particular matter. A consultation is the best way to obtain an assessment of your potential case.