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Latino Customer Claims Store Extorted Him

CHICAGO (CN) - After security officers at a Menards home improvement store threatened to "call immigration" on a longtime Latino customer and trick him into signing a "confession" of theft, the company tried to extort him, the man claims in court.

Alonso Medina Garcia sued Menard dba Menards and two John Doe security officers, in Cook County Court.

Garcia, a tradesman, claims he is a "longstanding customer of the Cicero Menards and other Menards stores, having purchased many thousands of dollars of merchandise from the home improvement chain in the conduct of his business."

Garcia claims in paid a cashier for a sliding door and a drill bit, got a receipt, and wheeled the items out of the Cicero store on Sept. 19. 2012.

"Garcia proceeded to wheel his handcart out of the Cicero Menards and into the adjacent parking lot where he had parked his vehicle," the complaint states.

"However, as he proceeded to exit the Menards, Garcia unexpectedly felt someone suddenly grab his shoulder from behind without warning or justification and attempt to twist him around. Garcia immediately turned around and asked the individual, defendant John Doe 1, why he had accosted him.

"John Doe 1, a black male who appeared to be in his mid-30s and dressed only in jeans and a T-shirt and without any identification as a security guard, then identified himself as working for Menards' security department and ordered Garcia to follow him back into the store. ...

"Garcia then observed a uniformed security guard appear at the store entrance, John Doe 2, another black male who appeared to be in his mid-30s. John Doe 2, who was conspicuously armed with a handgun, also identified himself as working for Menards' security department and likewise ordered Garcia to follow him and John Doe 1 back into the store."

Garcia says he followed the two men back into the Menards, into an 8-by-10-foot windowless office.

"Once in the room, both John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 then accused Garcia of taking a 'drill bit.' However, Garcia repeatedly denied that he had stolen anything and explained to John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 that he had in fact purchased a drill bit and had the receipt to prove it," the complaint states.

John Doe 1 made him empty his pockets, while "John Doe 2 examined the purchases on Garcia's handcart and, without Garcia's assent, opened all of the packaging of Garcia's sliding door looking, presumably, for any signs of stolen merchandise. However, as Garcia had repeatedly represented, there was no stolen merchandise," the complaint states.

Nonetheless, the guards repeatedly asked him where he had hidden the stolen drill bit, Garcia says.

"By this point, John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 were growing increasingly frustrated and abusive towards Garcia because they could not locate any stolen merchandise," according to the complaint. "John Doe 2 asked Garcia for his 'identification' and Garcia handed him his Illinois ID card. John Doe 2 looked at the ID card and falsely accused Garcia of using a fraudulent ID, insisting to Garcia that he knew the ID card was 'from 26th Street' - suggesting that it was fraudulently produced on 26th Street in Chicago, a main commercial artery in a community with a predominantly Mexican-American population.

"John Doe 2 also asked Garcia, an American of Hispanic descent, a series of irrelevant, abusive and discriminatory questions like 'What country are you from?' and 'Do you work?' Garcia was deeply offended by John Doe 2's racist line of questioning because it falsely implied that he had stolen something and furthermore that he was both presumably lazy and an illegal immigrant simply because he was of Hispanic origin.

"John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 then threatened to 'call immigration' on Garcia if he did not wrongfully confess to stealing a drill bit."

Garcia says the guards repeatedly demanded that he sign a lengthy document in English, but "Garcia, who has only a 6th grade education from Mexico, protested that he could not sign the document because he could not read English well and therefore he could not understand it. ...

"After some time, John Doe 1 finally admitted to Garcia that the document they ordered that he sign was in fact a written admission that he was guilty of shoplifting. Once told this, Garcia thereafter adamantly refused to sign it notwithstanding the repeated and abusive demands and threats of John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 that he do so."

When he finally was allowed to leave, Garcia says, "At the front entrance of the Menards, and in the presence of numerous other customers, John Doe then yelled at Garcia to 'never come back' to Menards because 'you aren't allowed here anymore!'"

To top it off, Garcia says, Menards sent him a letter threatening to sue him for shoplifting unless he paid it $150.

"At no time did Menards possess a reasonable belief that Garcia was in fact guilty of shoplifting," Garcia says in the complaint. "Contrary to Menards false claims in its November 21, 2012 letter, no concealed or otherwise unpaid merchandise was ever found to be in Garcia's possession.

He adds: "Defendants' conduct is particularly reprehensible because of their repeated attempts to coerce Garcia to sign documents that they knew he could not read and to thereby trick him into admitting to a crime he did not commit simply because of his Hispanic origin and lack of proficiency in reading and understanding written English.

"Defendants' conduct is also particularly reprehensible because of defendants' discriminatory actions based upon his ethnic origin as evidenced by their comments to Garcia about his immigration and work status, including but not limited to defendants' bullying threats to 'call immigration' on Garcia in an attempt to coerce a false confession from him."

Garcia seeks punitive damages for false imprisonment, battery, extortion and emotional distress.

He is represented by Brian Norkett, with Bullaro & Carton.

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