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Officers Cleared in ‘Profiling’ at Mall – Report (Article 3 originally published September 25, 2003)

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

Columbus Post Contributing Writer

Two Columbus police officers did nothing improper during an alleged racial profiling incident involving Columbus Post president and publisher Alan Sorter at City Center Mall last year, according to an initial report by police investigators.

Sorter’s allegations that he was harassed and racially profiled by police are “unfounded,” police Sgt. Chantay Boxill said in an investigative report obtained by The Columbus Post.

Sorter, also president and CEO of Freedom Media Group Inc. – owners of The Columbus Post – said he considers the Internal Affairs report no more than a police cover-up.

“I see it as the police protecting the police and not giving the citizens the rights they deserve,” Sorter said in an interview Tuesday. “I was insulted and disrespected by one of Columbus’ police officers, and I do expect an apology.”

Mayor Michael Coleman and Public Safety Director Mitchell Brown – who had expressed a special interest in the case – could not be reached for comment.

Boxill, an Internal Affairs officer, said a final report will be issued after her recommendation is reviewed by her supervisors.

Boxill said she based her findings on interviews with the officers and Sorter, and on an audiotape of the incident taken by mall security. Boxill said the audiotape showed Sorter as “confrontational” and “threatening” toward police officers Steve Simmons and Yazed Shephard.

Sorter denied being “confrontational” but acknowledged that he stood his ground after being unfairly persecuted by officers.

Sorter said he was eating his dinner at the mall last September when a security officer walked up, said he’d had a complaint about a “suspicious” looking man, and asked Sorter to leave. When Sorter denied that he was being disruptive and refused to leave, the officer called for police backup. Simmons and Shephard responded – along with a second mall officer – and escorted Sorter from the mall.

Sorter said he was harassed that Sunday afternoon because he was dressed in gym shoes and a sweat suit, instead of his weekday business attire. The incident – coupled with rude behavior and snide comments from officers – amounted to a racial profiling, Sorter said.

In her draft report, Boxill disagreed.

“It is understandable that being told he had to leave the mall would have upset Mr. Sorter,” Boxill reported. “What is clear is that neither Officer Shephard nor Officer Simmons racially profiled Mr. Sorter or allowed the security personnel to ‘violate his civil rights.’ ”

Boxill’s report also states that Sorter, himself, became the aggressor at one point during the incident, becoming argumentative and “confrontational.” Sorter argued with the officers, she said, and told them that if they did not leave him alone, he would use his influence against them.

“Mr. Sorter’s refusal to leave the property along with the confrontational and threatening comments he made to the officers, clearly was not the actions of a man who was intimidated by anyone,” Boxill writes in her report.

Sorter acknowledged becoming agitated by what he called unfair treatment, but said he never threatened anyone. He said he will not drop the issue until he receives an apology. He also said that he has not ruled out legal action against the city.

The two mall security officers involved, meanwhile, both resigned after being confronted by their superiors, mall general manager Peter Cooper said in a telephone interview. Cooper said the security officers violated the mall’s practice of courtesy and professionalism toward all customers.

“The actions by the two (security) officers were not reflective of our philosophy or of our commitment to the constituencies which we serve,” Cooper said. “And, so, when the issue was presented to them, they both resigned.”

“Immediately, we apologized for the situation,’ he added. “It certainly isn’t how we believe we should treat our customers.”

Sorter said he spoke with Cooper immediately after the incident, and had been pleased with Cooper’s response.

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