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One Officer Suspended, Another Resigns, in ‘Profiling’ at Mall (Article 2 originally published September 18, 2003)

Freedom Media Group President and CEO Alan W. Sorter reenacts the moment he was approached by mall security. (Photo by Ray Thornton)

(Columbus Post Staff Report)

One mall security officer has been suspended and a second has resigned in connection with the alleged racial profiling of Freedom Media Group president Alan W. Sorter at City Center mall last week, officials said this week.

Officials said Sgt. Tim Crouch was suspended last week pending the completion of an investigation into the Sept. 7 incident involving Sorter, president of the company that bought The Columbus Post in July.

The investigation should be complete by next week and any further disciplinary action will be taken at that time, said Joe Marcello, executive vice-president of operations for IPC International, which provides security for Columbus City Center mall.

“We in no way condone his actions and he will be strongly disciplined if the investigation reveals that he acted inappropriately,” Marcello said. “This is unacceptable.”

The second security officer, N.L. Droll, resigned after being confronted about the incident, Marcello said.

It was not clear this week if the related actions of two Columbus police officers also were being investigated.

Mayor Michael Coleman has been apprised of the incident and will schedule a meeting with Sorter as soon as possible, said mayoral spokesman Michael Brown.

Sorter said he was eating dinner in a second-floor area of the mall when Droll approached him, told him he’d received a merchant complaint about a “suspicious” and “loitering” man, and asked Sorter to leave. When Sorter denied he was loitering and refused to leave, Droll told Sorter that he would leave peacefully or be escorted out, Sorter said.

When Sorter again protested, Droll got on his radio and called for back-up, Sorter said. Moments later, Crouch and two Columbus police officers named Shepard and Simmons showed up, Sorter said. The officers escorted him from the mall, Sorter said, and later harassed him on the steps outside the mall.

In a front-page editorial in The Columbus Post last week, Sorter called the incident “shocking” and “humiliating.”

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

This week, Sorter said he was pleased that mall and security managers have taken swift action against the two security officers. But he said he would not be satisfied until mall officials do everything they can to make sure that no one else is so humiliated.

NAACP President Noel Williams said the incident proves that police and security officers need more sensitivity training.

“An African-American man in sweats should not be under automatic suspicion,” Williams said in a statement. “It’s distasteful and shows a lack of respect towards the citizenry. It shouldn’t be happening in our city.”

Both Marcello and the mall’s general manager, Peter Cooper, have apologized to Sorter and pledged to improve diversity training for security officers.

“The treatment you described was inexcusable and certainly does not reflect our philosophy or how we believe we should operate our business,” Cooper said in a letter to Sorter delivered last week.

“We’re surprised and embarrassed by the incident,” Cooper added, “and we can only promise to make every effort to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

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