DETAINED–In a cellphone video taken during the incident, a Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputy confronts two of the mistakenly accused teenagers. “I did nothing wrong,” one of the accused teens is heard shouting in the video.
The parents of three Thousand Oaks teens who were wrongfully detained at the Westlake Village Target store for a Jan. 17 theft they didn’t commit are filing a lawsuit against the big retailer.
A Target employee incorrectly identified the three Black males as responsible for stealing more than $950 worth of merchandise from the store on Russell Ranch Road. Target security guards stopped the boys from leaving the store and placed them in handcuffs, and families of the three teens are alleging they were singled out by Target employees and subject to excessive force by sheriff’s deputies because they are Black.
The boys were believed to have been connected to a group of other unidentified men who were in the store at the same time and committed the theft.
Deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station confronted the boys—Malik Aaron, 17, and Greg Kim and Aaron Frederickson, both 16—but released them a short time later after it was determined they were not the perpetrators.
“Target summoned the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department, falsely concluding that the youths were ‘decoys’ for actual criminals, who happened to be in the store at the same time, stealing Target merchandise and running out the back exit,” said Toni Jaramilla, an attorney for the families.
“Because the criminals were Black, the Target employees assumed Malik, Greg and Aaron knew them . . . solely because they were Black,” Jaramilla said.
The boys were accused by a Target employee of loitering and asked to leave, but their exit was blocked by a second employee, who put a line of shopping carts in front of them and said they couldn’t depart because of the theft that had occurred, the attorney said.
HANDCUFFED–One of the boys is detained.
Malik Aaron claims a deputy slammed his foot as he was placed in a squad car. The sheriff’s department denied use of excessive force or racial profiling on the part of its deputies.
“The deputies confirmed a grand theft had taken place, but their subsequent investigation revealed the young men were not involved and were released without incident,” Lost Hills Capt. Chuck Becerra said in a statement.
“A concerned citizen, who was not present, has made allegations that the LASD personnel used physical force on one of the young men, as well as damaging his cell phone,” Becerra said.
“An investigation conducted by the deputies’ supervisors determined there is no evidence to support the claims made by the concerned citizen, nor does it support any allegations of wrongdoing, use of force, violation of department policies, or violation of any laws on behalf of the deputies,” the sheriff’s captain said.
La Shaun Aaron, the mother of Malik Aaron, disagrees. She said her son and his friends were “criminalized by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department because the staff at Target deemed them inherently bad.”
“In this case, overt racism created not only a traumatic experience but added to the racial trauma and stress that our children have accumulated,” Aaron said.
Aaron said her son joined Kim and Frederickson on a trip to the local Target to buy snacks following Sunday services at nearby Calvary Community Church.
They were “treated as criminals because of their race,” Jaramilla said.
The attorney said the boys were “embarrassed and feared for their lives,” during the incident.
Jenna Reck, a Target spokesperson, said the employee who identified the boys was fired following the incident.
“We want all Target guests to feel welcome and respected whenever they shop in our stores. We’re deeply sorry for what happened to these guests,” Reck said.
“What happened to these guests is in direct opposition to the inclusive experience we want all guests to have. Our security team member took action and stopped these guests in violation of Target’s security procedures.”
Reck said the store’s management team will be asked to retake the company’s security and racial bias training instruction.
Follow Ian Bradley on Twitter @Ian_reports.