In another incident in what has become an unfortunate and disturbing trend, several Black teens found themselves handcuffed while one was bitten by a security dog as they attempted to shop for clothes at an Alabama mall last month. With mall personnel tight-lipped about details regarding the incident, the families of the teens, along with their attorneys, were calling for justice.
Cameron Robinson, 16, Zion Lett, 16, Rodricus Johnson, 15, and their chaperon Nathaniel Henderson, 20, were at the Shoppes of Bel Air mall in Mobile when they were suddenly approached by the mall’s private security before even entering the building on June 22. The group said they were aggressively forced against the wall and handcuffed as they asked what they had done wrong. Robinson claimed after cops slammed his head, the mall’s K-9 officer ordered their dog to attack him. He said he was bitten several times and following the attack, Robinson, as well as several witnesses to the incident, claimed the officer told him, “I could have got worse than what the dog did.”
Lawyers released a photo of what it said was Robinson’s injury after being bitten.
Robinson had to spend at least two days in the hospital due to his injuries. The boys were ultimately charged with disorderly conduct.
“Just to see him sitting on the curb, bleeding, looking up at me crying, saying ‘Mama, they put the dog on me, I didn’t do anything,’ it just broke my heart,” Robinson’s mother, Calandra Smith, said.
Attorneys for the families, L. Chris Stewart and Justin Miller, announced in a press release that they would be filing a lawsuit this week against Brookfield Properties, the company that owns the mall, and Allied Universal Security, the company that manages the mall’s private security team.
“Dogs were used to control African-Americans during the civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and it appears with this incident that we haven’t made much progress,” Stewart said. “We have numerous questions for Brookfield Properties, The Shoppes at Bel Air and Allied Universal Security regarding why their security guards were so aggressive and also why a K-9, trained to attack on command, is patrolling a shopping mall.”
Stewart and Miller held a press conference Monday morning to discuss the incident and condemn who they said was the security guard involved, Justin Kestler. They alleged Kestler had only earned his K-9 license three months prior to him being hired last year. This incident happening just eight months into his tenure. The pair also criticized Shoppes of Bel Air for hiring him and questioned why they would need a K-9 unit for the mall, to begin with.
In an interview with Private Officer News in November, Kestler described his purpose at the mall:
“We’re looking to assist customers wherever they’re needed. Anybody needs help finding a location in the mall, or any assistance in the parking lot, as far as broken down vehicles, we’re here to help,” he said.
Stewart and Miller alleged otherwise, stating that there have been several incidents of racial profiling and harassment by the private security team at the mall. Brookfield Properties has not released a statement responding to the attack, but the mall confirmed to the parents that there is security footage of the whole encounter, but they along with their attorneys had yet to view the video. Stewart and Miller claimed that when the parents went to the mall in hopes of convincing authorities to let them watch the video, they were turned away.
In addition to calls for the video to be released, they have also called for the firing of Kestler.