A Multnomah County jury on June 2, 2014, awarded Brenda Moaning, an African American woman, $105,000 for battery and false arrest against retailer H&M. Ms. Moaning, a woman of great dignity, was shopping at H&M during their Clackamas Town Center grand opening in May of 2011. Moaning, the only African American in the store at the time, was secretly being watched for 15 minutes by H&M security, even though she wasn’t doing anything suspicious. In the store’s surveillance video, she went to buy items including $5 basic jersey, then offered to buy an additional jersey, pay up front for it, and pick up the jersey on the way out. The clerk agreed, and the video clearly showed Ms. Moaning holding the shirt up to the clerk, and the clerk nodding in agreement that it was okay for Ms. Moaning to leave.
After Ms. Moaning left the store, security men came up from behind her, grabbed both her arms, and wrenched her arms backwards. The security men then called her a thief, despite her protests that all they needed to do was look at her receipt. The security men took her to a backroom where she was interrogated for 16 minutes. There, one of the security men told her, “You look like a common thief.”
Ms. Moaning comes from a long line of civically engaged Portlanders. She was one of the first African-American students bussed during desegregation in the 1960s. Her family also helped establish the first Portland chapter of the NAACP.
In the back room, H&M security told her to hand over her purse, and when she responded that she would keep her purse, but hand over whatever items they requested, one of the security men said, “If I were you, I’d give him your purse.” After she again said she would hand over anything they requested, one of the security men then grabbed her by the wrists, squeezing her so hard that her wrists were bruised, then took her purse from her. She told the men to simply talk to the clerk, who could confirm that she had paid for the item.
One of the men said, “The only person we’re going to call is the sheriff.”
“Call the sheriff,” Ms. Moaning replied.
By then, Ms. Moaning was distressed and ill, and simply shut down. In response to the remainder of their questions, she held a finger up to her mouth and said, “Shush!”
Finally, one of the security men went to the sales clerk, who immediately confirmed Ms. Moaning’s innocence. As she was being released, Ms. Moaning heard the security men say the clerk would be terminated. Ms. Moaning then went back into the store, and told the clerk what she had heard, and gave her a business card, and offered to help find her a job if she was terminated, explaining, “You’re a good person.” The clerk confirmed the conversation in trial testimony.