MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A mall dress-code policy is being challenged after weekend arrests at Wolfchase Galleria that ended with a former local journalist in handcuffs.
Former Commercial Appeal reporter Kevin McKenzie says he felt something was off when he watched a security guard tailing a group of young black men and was later arrested for getting involved.
He spoke with us on Monday about what happened after sharing his story on social media. He says the response he’s gotten from the public so far has been outrage.
“You’re being told to leave sir," you can hear an off-duty officer telling McKenzie in cell phone video he posted.
"Okay, okay. I’ll leave," McKenzie answers.
"Put your hands behind your back," the officer responds.
McKenzie was then handcuffed.
He says it all started when he was walking through Wolfchase Galleria and noticed a white male security guard trailing some young men who appeared to have just come in the mall, "like he was a cat after mice.”
More guards in law enforcement uniforms joined and kicked the young men out. One was taken into custody.
McKenzie says he asked why and was told they violated a policy against wearing hoodies — something he felt was bogus.
“I’m disturbed that even today and especially today probably because race is back on the front burner in America, young black men have a very hard time. They’re perceived as threats and they shouldn’t be.”
He says the young men came back inside to challenge the policy.
The first code of conduct at the mall says “wear appropriate clothing,” but it doesn’t specifically mention hoodies.
“I never saw a single hoodie up,” McKenzie said.
As McKenzie filmed one of the young men being detained for trespassing, he got his own warning.
“You’re in violation of the mall policy," you can hear an off-duty deputy tell McKenzie. "So you can be asked to leave too."
"Okay," McKenzie answered.
"So you might want to put your phone down," the off-duty deputy answers.
The entire encounter is not caught on camera, but McKenzie says he was brought to the security office and then downtown for trespassing.
He couldn’t go to the jail because of medical issues and instead went to the hospital where police realized the handcuffs he was wearing wouldn’t release.
“After they decided they’d give me a misdemeanor citation and let me go, he took me around to the fire station where I put my arm out and the firefighters cut it off with bolt cutters. That was fun.”
We reached out to Memphis Police and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.
A spokesperson with the sheriff's office responded with the following statement:
"I have viewed the link that you sent me and believed that MPD will be the best agency to respond to questions regarding the arrest(s) and the managing company for the mall would be the best source to comment on the policies of the mall. What I can say is that the deputies seen in the video was working off-duty security for the mall."
A spokesperson with Memphis Police responded with the following statement:
"MPD does not create policies for the Wolfchase Galleria. The owner of any private property has the right to ask patrons to leave their premises. If an officer is working secondary employment, or if an officer is dispatched to any private property for assistance regarding a patron that is asked to leave the premises, officers will respond. If the policies that are in place by the Wolfchase Mall are in question, you will need to contact them for information."
However, McKenzie says both agencies need to take more accountability.
“These folks, these young people will be traumatized and never trust again these police officers or these sheriff’s deputies because of what they did, you know, not even on the clock," he said.
A spokesperson with Wolfchase Galleria responded with the following statement:
“Wolfchase Galleria is focused on providing a safe environment for all customers and employees. We require customers to not conceal their identity while on mall property as a matter of public safety. It is important that our security cameras and security personnel be able to see the faces of everyone on property. Mall security personnel respectfully ask all customers concealing their identity to conform to the policy. Police are only called if a customer refuses or becomes belligerent. In this instance, a MPD officer repeatedly requested the individual to remove his 'hoodie.' He did not comply with this directive and was removed from the mall. The incident on Saturday night was managed by the Memphis Police and we refer all questions about the circumstances to MPD.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson with Memphis Police responded with the following statement:
"The off-duty MPD officer was working a secondary job as security for Wolfchase Galleria. MPD officers are allowed to work a secondary job as long as they follow the policy that is in place for additional and secondary employment.
Working an additional or secondary job is nothing new and has been available for officers for many years. When officers are working their additional or secondary job, they are not being compensated by the City of Memphis. The company in which they work for is responsible for paying the officer due to the officer is hired by them, and works for them just as any other employee.
Again, I cannot speak on the policies relative to Wolfchase Mall. Also, I’m not sure what other information you are needing, or what is meant by “managed by MPD”.