Barneys New York says it has hired a civil rights expert to review its procedures and practices after two black customers accused police of harassing them following expensive purchases at the department store.
Barneys New York CEO Mark Lee apologized in a statement Thursday, adding that "no customer should have the unacceptable experience" of being accosted by police after making a purchase at the store.
Lee said the store has hired Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to lead a review of fairness and equality practices at the high-end department store. He will have unrestricted access to all aspects of store operations, according to Lee.
The store has also reached out to community leaders to "begin a dialogue on this important issue," said Lee.
Trayon Christian, 19, of Queens, said he was handcuffed and locked in a cell after buying a $350 Ferragamo belt last April. He says he was accosted by undercover NYPD officers after leaving the store, who questioned how he could afford such a pricey accessory.
He has filed a lawsuit against the city and Barneys, alleging he was held at a precinct in a cell for more than two hours before being released with no charges.
He told NBC 4 New York
that questions were racing through his mind while he went through the painful experience.
"Why me? I guess because I'm a young black man, and you know, people do a credit card scam so they probably thought that I was one of them," Christian said. "They probably think that black people don't have money like that."
Barneys has denied that it was involved in any detention, saying "that after carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale."
Meanwhile, another shopper who heard about Christian's lawsuit came forward Wednesday to say she had a similar experience after purchasing a $2,500 Celine handbag at the store in February.
A lawyer for Kayla Phillips, 21, of Brooklyn,said she was surrounded by police after leaving the store. They demanded to know why she used a debit card without a name on it.
Phillips explained that it was a temporary card, and after showing police identification and a new debit card that had arrived in the mail that morning, they let her go.
Mayor Bloomberg said Thursday that anyone who feels treated unfairly should file a complaint.
Bloomberg said the NYPD was reviewing its actions and declined to discuss the issue further, but added that "we take every complaint seriously."
The Brooklyn chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network said the group also plans to picket Barneys if the alleged pattern of racial profiling does not stop, its president, Kirsten John Foy, said in a statement.
"Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights," the luxury retailer said in a statement.
The NYPD said Thursday it has gotten 53 grand larceny complaints this year for credit card fraud at the Madison Avenue store and made more than 47 arrests. It wasn't clear how many were charged with crimes and how many were released.
--Brynn Gingras contributed to this story
Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area