VENTURA, Calif. (AP) - The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has said three teens, who are Black, were wrongly detained at a Target store in Westlake Village during a grand theft investigation last week.
The teens — a 17-year-old and two 16-year-olds — from Thousand Oaks were walking home Jan. 17 after attending church with friends when they decided to stop at Target to buy snacks, the Ventura County Star reported.
The teens said they were the victims of racial profiling by Target staff and county deputies.
One of the boys told the Star that he and his friends were unaware there was a shoplifting incident while they were in the store, where the suspects smashed through the glass in the electronics section and stole smartphones.
“We were being followed in the store by an employee who told us, ‘Hey, I can’t have you guys loitering,’” he said. He explained the group decided to leave but found the exit barricaded with shopping carts.
The teen said Target security staff did not let the teens leave despite other visitors exiting.
Three deputies then arrived and detained the teens at the front of the store, including handcuffing one and putting him in a police vehicle for up to 20 minutes before releasing him. Authorities later said they were identified as the suspects by the store’s loss prevention officers.
Capt. Sal “Chuck” Becerra said in a statement on social media on Friday that the teens were released and an internal investigation found no evidence of excessive force.
Target issued a statement saying the company has apologized to the teenagers, fired one of the security team members involved and will require the store’s employees to retake security and racial bias training.
The mother of the teen who was handcuffed has since retained attorney Toni Jaramilla to file a lawsuit alleging a violation of her son’s civil rights. She disputes the deputies’ account determining excessive force was not used.
“The way they were detained was very aggressive and beyond necessary for the situation,” Jaramilla said.