A black Brooklyn lawyer and her biracial daughter say they were accused of shoplifting by the white clerks of a Williamsburg vintage clothing store, then handcuffed by police blocks from the shop, only to be released when cops realized the pair was innocent.
A mother-daughter day out last Friday ended in Woodhull hospital after Nancy Bedard, an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. B, and her college-age daughter decided to try on a couple of dresses in Amarcord Vintage Fashion in the heart of the hipster neighborhood.
A fan of Seventies fashion, Bedard picked out a bathing suit she liked and three dresses, one black with long sleeves, a lavender frock and a purple dress.
A dark-haired clerk told the women to share a fitting room to try on the clothes, Bedard said.
When they came out of the room, Bedard asked the clerk the price of one of the dresses, then laid them on an ottoman in the store and went to leave.
That's when a blond-haired clerk confronted the two and asked about a fifth clothing item.
"I remember counting on my fingers. One, two, three, four. There is no missing item," the lawyer said.
Bedard says she tried to step outside the shop to walk away, but the clerk continued to interrogate them about the phantom dress.
"She told me to come back in the store and I wouldn't," she said. "I know my rights and I didn't."
The blond dress shop employee warned that the surveillance camera would have captured any theft.
"Great," Bedard said she told the clerk. "You should go watch it."
Instead the woman called the cops and followed the lawyer and her daughter, who was home from college for the weekend to relax before her college finals.
The clerk continued to accuse her of theft, shouting at them and humiliating them on the crowded sidewalk.
"They knew you were going to shoplift the minute you walked in the door," the woman told Bedard and her daughter. "That's why they called me."
"It was very embarrassing," Bedard said. "People were staring at me, not her, but she was the one that was screaming."
"I gave her a million chances to think about what she was saying," Bedard said.
Finally, the police showed up, handcuffed the mother and child together and then went through a shopping bag from the Doc Marten store they visited earlier in the day.
After finding nothing, the police uncuffed Bedard and her daughter, who had suffered bruises and cuts from the cuffs.
Police confirmed that they had detained the two women after the store employee accused them of theft, but did not find anything on them.
"My daughter and I were hysterically crying," she said. "My daughter, my baby, I was so upset that she had to go through this to her physical self."
They were taken to Woodhull hospital where they say police continued to shadow them.
It wasn't until 11 p.m. that police returned her driver's license.
The owners of Amarcord, Patti Bordoni and Marco Liotta, have a different version of events and deny that shop employees did anything wrong.
"Basically, there was some furtive behavior on the part of the patrons, an employee asked about an item of clothing and that question alone prompted the patron to pull the race card," Daniel Kron, the attorney for the store owners, said.
"At no time was the word 'shoplifting' used except by the patron," he said.
According to Kron, Bedard said, "'Cause I'm black you think I'm stealing?"
The lawyer said she started raising her voice, "She was causing a scene," he said. "The police were called when she was in the store when we didn't know if she would leave."
He said that the employee went with police to find the duo and see if the item had been taken.
"There is nothing my client did that would lead a reasonable person to believe that this was racially motivated. This was a normal question for any retail business."
It was Bedard, not the employee, who was in the wrong, according to a statement posted in the store's window.
"One of the patrons threatened our employee's safety, humiliated her and berated her race, class and physical appearance."
Bedard photographed the clerk giving her the finger on both hands.
Bordoni and Liotta tried to reach out to Bedard and even posted an apology on Bedard's husband's Facebook page in response to his calls for a boycott of the store.
After a week of stewing on the incident, Bedard said she still isn't satisfied that the owners understand the damage they've done. She wants the store shut down.
"I want a sense of awareness about this," she said. "That store doesn't need to exist anymore."
"It's a serious problem for people of color. It's demoralizing, it puts us in unnecessary contact with the police. They take away your liberty - that was a very scary time for me and my daughter."
An NYPD lieutenant has been transferred as a result of the incident.
A department spokeswoman told The News Friday that the patrol supervisor at the scene was reassigned to another command while the borough's investigations unit looks into the matter.
The cops were called to the store for a report of shoplifters, an NYPD spokeswoman said.
Bedard and her daughter were "detained for a brief period of time" until the officers' search for stolen clothes came up empty-handed, cops said.
The store employee was also "uncertain" the two snatched anything, the police spokeswoman said.
Bordoni and Liotta took umbrage at the accusation that they were bigoted and said they have "zero-tolerance toward racial discrimination."
The owners decided to shut down the shop for two days as protesters gathered out front to protest the incident.
"There were no threats," Kron said. "Out of an abundance of caution we thought it was best to close for two days and regroup."
The boutique owners said that they would not be bullied.
"In my professional opinion, this seems like a very clear-cut case of defamation," Kron said.
About 60 people showed up at the shop Friday night to chant "This is your block, stop calling the cops" and "Stop racial profiling."
The run-in and resulting controversy comes at the same time as a string of similar incidents at Yale, a Philadelphia Starbucks and a York, Pennsylvania golf course in which police were called on black people who were not breaking the law.
For Bedard it shows how bad race relations in the country have become.
"It's while we're shopping, drinking coffee, sleeping, selling cigarettes," she said. "The fact that you're black alone is suspicious."