Mall didn't discriminate, Justices rule

By Steve Korris | Nov 18, 2009

CHARLESTON – Charleston Town Center guards did not discriminate against two African-American teens, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals says.

The Justices on Nov. 17 reversed the state Human Rights Commission, which awarded $5,000 each to Kevin Streets and Steven Bumpus for humiliation, distress and loss of dignity.

"The appellees cannot seriously dispute that they were in violation of the code of conduct on the date of the incidents in question," their unsigned opinion declared.

The Justices blistered the commission's administrative law judge, Robert Wilson, for "hostility and sarcasm toward the Town Center and its agents."

Wilson wrote last year that guards "systematically harassed complainants the entire night," and he prescribed training for guards in racial profiling.

Unlike Wilson, the Justices found ample evidence that guards acted properly.

"Town Center presented evidence showing that the appellees' behavior violated the Town Center's code of conduct," they wrote. "It is undisputed that the appellees were in a group of seven or eight individuals, at least several of whom were not paying customers of the food court.

"It is also undisputed that the group refused to leave the food court instructed to do so.

"Town Center presented evidence that the appellees were directed to leave the Town Center because they were being loud and the mall was closing."

Although Wilson found that guards lacked any basis to tell Streets and Bumpus they couldn't window shop and had to keep moving, the Justices disagreed.

They quoted the code of conduct that, "Customers must keep moving in an orderly fashion through the premises and not block walkways or store entrances."

"Mall security has the discretion to enforce the code of conduct in accord with Mall conditions," the justices wrote.

They rejected Wilson's finding that as Streets and Bumpus left, guards improperly acted on a belief that they belonged to a bigger group causing trouble outside.

"The fact that the security guards believed this in part because the appellees were of the same race as the members of the larger group is not evidence of racial animus against the appellees," they wrote.

The presumption that Streets and Bumpus belonged to the group "is not unreasonable under the circumstances," they wrote.

They saw little value in testimony from Charleston police officers Robert Brown and Raymond Coleman about treatment of African-Americans at Town Center.

They wrote that "general recollection of two police officers over a relatively long period of time absent supporting documentation and additional evidence of the total number of police evictions made at the Town Center over the same time period of time does not permit a meaningful comparison of Mall security's treatment of African-American versus its treatment of persons of other races."

Deputy Attorney General Paul Sheridan represented the Human Rights Commission.

Kevin Levine, Constance Weber and Anne Haight, all of Kay, Casto and Chaney in Charleston, represented Town Center.

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