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City’s Top Cop Orders Review of Mall ‘profiling’ (Article 4 originally published October 9, 2003)

Alan W. Sorter speaks to a friend at the mall in his weekday attire. (Photo by Ray Thornton)

(Columbus Post Staff Report)

Columbus Public Safety Director Mitchell Brown said Monday that he will order a police review into the alleged racial profiling of Freedom Media Group president Alan W. Sorter at Columbus City Center mall last month. Speaking after a meeting with Sorter and Mayor Michael Coleman, Brown said his inquiry will help determine if two Columbus police officers acted properly when they escorted Sorter out of City Center mall on Sept. 7 after a confrontation with security officers.

“We take every complaint and resident’s concern seriously,” said Brown. “I’ve already discussed this with the head of Internal Affairs, Commander Kim Jacobs, and there will be a full, fair investigation into the events. We’ve also contacted the Community Relations Commiss-ion’s Director James Stowe and requested that they also review the situation.”

“I thought it was a very effective meeting in a lot of ways,” said Sorter regarding the meeting with Coleman and Brown. “The Mayor was genuine, Director Brown was genuine, and I thought the whole spirit of the meeting was healthy and I think we will get some activity regarding the police officers and their role in this whole incident.”

In a front-page editorial in The Columbus Post on Sept. 11, Sorter characterized the incident as a racial profiling and called the experience “shocking” and “humiliating.”

“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. Not today. Not in 2003. But it was happening,” Sorter said in the Sept. 11 editorial. “I was actually being profiled.”

Coleman said he took the allegations seriously and, if true, he would deal with the matter appropriately.

“We have high standards and even higher expectations of our officers,” he said. “They are to be professional in all situations and treat all residents with respect and fairness.”

Sorter said he was eating dinner in a second-floor area of the mall when a security officer approached him, saying he’d received a complaint about a “suspicious” and “loitering” man, and asked Sorter to leave.

When Sorter denied he was loitering and refused to leave, the officer got on his radio and called for back-up. Moments later, two Columbus police officers and a second security officer showed up and escorted him out of the mall.

The mall’s general manager, Peter Cooper, immediately apologized to Sorter for the incident and pledged he would fully investigate.

Since then, both security officers involved in the incident have resigned, said Joseph Marcello, executive vice-president of national operations for IPC International, which provides security for Columbus City Center mall.

In a letter to Sorter last month, Marcello apologized for the incident, but said he did not think that Sorter had been profiled.

According to Marcello, the only reason that Sorter was approached by his officers was that they had received a complaint from a female employee in the mall, indicating that a man had been seen “in the same location for extended period of time” and that he was “making her feel uncomfortable.”

“Because of these facts, I must respectfully disagree with your assessment that you were profiled.” wrote Marcello. “In fact, as your previous visits to the mall indicate, security most likely would not have interacted with you at all if it were not for the complaint.”

Sorter called the letter “insulting.” “It has opened more questions in my mind than it has solved,” he said.

“The implication was, we’ll do it again if we have to,” he continued. “It was a typical response from an inexperienced person being concerned about not wanting the company to look bad or to take any responsibility unnecessarily.”

Sorter said he felt that Marcello was attempting to appease him by merely stating that the officers were no longer employed by the company.

“The first step is to take ownership of your employee’s behavior,” Sorter said. “And he didn’t seem to take any real ownership.”

Meanwhile, the profiling story has drawn attention from readers and other people around the country especially after Sorter appeared on the nationally syndicated radio talk show, “The Tom Pope Show.”

“Thank you Alan W. Sorter for instantly confronting racism! Your experience at this mall with racial profiling is one that thousands of minorities have undergone,” said Doris Haskins, a reader from Columbia, South Carolina.

“This insult to human dignity must not be tolerated any longer.”

Columbus Post contributing writer Tobias Houpe contributed to this report.

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