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Nordstrom Rack apologizes after 3 black men are falsely accused of stealing from store

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, shoppers walk into a Nordstrom store in Pittsburgh. Nordstrom, Inc. reports earnings, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) ORG XMIT: NYBZ403 (Gene J. Puskar / AP)
By Rachel Rice St. Louis Post-Dispatch

BRENTWOOD, Mo. – Nordstrom Rack leadership apologized to the families of three young men after they were falsely accused of stealing from the Brentwood, Mo., store and police were called.

Mekhi Lee, 19, a DeSmet Jesuit High School graduate who is now a freshman at Alabama A&M University, was with East St. Louis Senior High School senior Eric Rogers and De Smet senior Dirone Taylor while they shopped for prom clothes at Nordstrom Rack on Thursday.

Lee said he and his friends, who are all black, noticed they were being watched by store employees.

“At that point we moved to a farther part of the store,” Lee said, but they were still followed. “(I felt) nervous, and like I couldn’t be there.”

Lee called his mother, Twyla Lee, to tell her what was happening, and she encouraged her son to talk with the manager of the store. Lee said the manager never came to talk to them.

Lee says another customer, an elderly woman, became involved in the increasingly tense situation, calling one of the men a “punk.”

“When she called us a punk, and she didn’t have anything to do with the situation, everyone in the store is against us looking at us crazy, (and) we didn’t do anything,” Lee said. “I was totally embarrassed, and we’re the only ones defending ourselves against everyone in the store.”

When the three left the store, police were pulling into the parking lot, Lee said. Officers told the men that police had gotten a call about three black men shoplifting.

The men showed the police the items they had purchased and a store receipt.

Lee and his mother say they’re pleased with the way the police handled the situation.

“The police let us (tell) our story,” Lee said. “The police did their job. They also read us the police report where Nordstrom (Rack) said we had stolen several items.”

Meanwhile, having been notified by her son that police had been called, Twyla Lee frantically called friends in the area to see if they could help defend the men. The situation, however, was resolved before a relative arrived.

“It makes me really furious because I pour so much into my son and I’ve raised him to do the right thing,” Twyla Lee said. “I’m a single mother raising an African-American male child, and I fear this, and now this fear has become reality . I’m heartbroken they had to go through that humiliation, (but) I’m so happy it went in a positive way, and police listened to their side of the story.”

Nordstrom Rack leadership confirmed that the company’s president, Geevy Thomas, had contacted the families of the boys and asked to meet with them.

“We didn’t handle this situation well, and we apologized to these young men and their families,” Nordstrom Rack said in a statement. “We’re enhancing our internal practices and trainings to help ensure this doesn’t happen again. We want all customers to feel welcome when they shop with us, and we don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

Adolphus Pruitt, St. Louis NAACP president, said he’s talked to Lee, Rogers and Taylor and their families about the incident. He said the young men just want to prevent something similar from happening to anyone in the future.

“The experience these young men went through is not an isolated incident for African-American males in St. Louis or this country,” Pruitt said. “Finding a way to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future has to be the mission of all of us . these things do not need to happen.”