Eyes on the Reprisal

Racial bias alleged in unwarranted detention of two black, elderly women

What we have here is a failure to communicate. We have other problems as well -- mistaken identities, innuendo masquerading as gospel, an abusive cop, unwarranted detention, dead and disabled witnesses, a trumped-up charge, justice run amok.

It all swirls kinetically amid a vortex of racial tension.

The protagonists are Ann Priestly, a 72-year-old Sun City West resident, and her niece, Evelyn Patterson, 65, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both are African American. Both are polite, reserved and diminutive. They are model citizens; no trouble with the law, no rabble-rousing. Priestly works as an anesthesia technician at Boswell Memorial Hospital. Patterson, the mother of eight, is a retired civil servant.

Rand Carlson

Their tormentor is Jeff Manka, a detective for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office who moonlights as a security officer for a Dillard's department store.

We should not overlook Dillard's itself as a player. The Arkansas-based chain has a record of wretched relations with people of color.

Priestly and Patterson became criminals on November 17, 1999. Patterson was four days into a visit with her aunt. They spent November 16 doing touristy things in Sedona. The 17th was reserved for Priestly's true passion -- shopping. The two left Priestly's residence about 10 a.m. for Arrowhead Towne Center. They browsed at JC Penney, and Priestly bought some clothing. From there, they went to Dillard's. Priestly tried on and purchased four more items of clothing -- $109.14 worth. It was about 1:30 p.m. when the pair left. They intended to return to Priestly's home for lunch. They were hungry.

They exited the store toting shopping bags from Dillard's and JC Penney. As they trod the mall concourse, they were stopped by a peculiar-looking man. It was Manka, who looked like anything but a cop. He was dressed in a tee shirt, sneakers and cut-off pants.

"All of a sudden a man came up to me from nowhere and caught me on my left side here, pressed into my arm -- I hollered, 'Turn me aloose,'" Priestly testified at her trial. "And I hollered. And by that time, she [Patterson] got ready to kick him, and then he pulls out a badge."

Patterson testified: "I saw this man holding -- had my aunt by the arm like this, and, you know, like you'd pick up a kid almost by one arm . . . and she was hollering, 'Turn me loose. You're hurting me, you're hurting me.'"

Manka believed Priestly and Patterson had shoplifted. He asked Priestly for a receipt.

He testified that he "displayed my badge and told them I was Detective Manka with the MCSO. She told me that she did -- had a receipt. The other woman [Patterson] that was with them started yelling, 'Are you accusing us of stealing?' They kind of both chimed in at that point and I just kept saying, you know, 'I just need to see the receipt if you have a receipt.'

". . . After we went back and forth like that for just a couple of seconds, the other woman just said, you know, 'We didn't do anything wrong. I'm outta here.' And she turned to walk away.

". . . I grabbed that woman by the right arm. . . . As soon as I grabbed her, she tried to jerk away, and hit me on the arm, told me to let go of her. And at that point, the woman in the purple dress stepped up, and told me to let go of her friend, and then I grabbed her."

The women claim Manka was not so officious as his testimony suggests. He was loud and hostile and accused them of stealing. Although he quickly flashed a badge, they weren't convinced he was a cop -- and they reacted accordingly. The receipt was in Priestly's purse, and she was loath to open it up to a stranger, someone Patterson described as a "street person."

This was actually the second instance of mistaken identity.

The first was Manka's. He began watching Priestly and Patterson inside the store after a sales clerk told him, "That woman's back." She was referring to a black woman who had acted suspiciously two nights before.

"She [the clerk] had called me a couple of nights prior to this and told me that there was a woman that had left her area and probably had stolen five dresses from her," testified Manka.

He believed Priestly was "that woman." His suspicions grew, he said, as Priestly brazenly took clothing from a rack, went to a fitting room, then repeated the process. Such behavior would seem to implicate any shopper. Manka lost track of the women and didn't see Priestly make her purchases. Instead, he waited for them near the store exit.

Priestly wasn't the woman from two evenings prior; in any case, there is absolutely no evidence anything had been stolen at that time. (Two sales clerks who were potential witnesses were not heard at the trial. The woman who made the phone call to Manka had died, the detective said, while another had become ill with Valley fever and was no longer working.)

Patterson said Manka was bellicose from the beginning. "Well, he was accusing . . . he said, 'I've been watching you, and you've been stealing, and you were just in here and you stole five dresses,' and he was just going on and on and on.

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