Shoed From Dillard's

Marsell Ector just wanted to buy a pair of Timberland boots at Dillard's in Mesa.

But according to Ector and several witnesses, a security guard at Dillard's Fiesta Mall location gave him a boot of a different kind--right out of the store.

Ector, 24, says he was hounded, harassed and finally ordered to leave the store along with his 23-year-old brother Marquis. The two, who are black, say they were shopping just like everybody else and believe their ejection by a Dillard's security officer was racially motivated.

"There was plenty of other people in there," says Marsell, who works for a pager company. "He just picked me and my brother out.

"I said, 'Excuse me--what's the problem?' I had money in my hand, and I showed him and told him there was no reason to be following me. He said to be quiet or I was gonna have on more 'jewelry' than I already had on"--an apparent reference to handcuffs.

The Ectors' complaint is one of a litany of racial-discrimination claims lodged against the Little Rock, Arkansas-based department-store chain. Some complaints have gone to federal courts; others to NAACP branches around the country.

The incident took place between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on February 24 at Dillard's Fiesta Mall location. The Ectors and a cousin, Jackie Patterson, had played basketball nearby, and instead of going back home to change, they decided to shop for shoes to match clothes they planned to wear while club-hopping that evening.

Marquis Ector and Patterson had brought a casual change of clothes with them; however, Marsell Ector had not. "My brother had on exactly what he wore to play basketball," Marquis says.

That was athletic shorts, gym shoes and a tee shirt along with a bracelet, ring and watch that he put back on after playing basketball. He carried money and his ID card in his hand.

"We looked kind of rough," says Marquis. "We weren't trying to impress anybody."

The three visited a few stores and then noticed that Dillard's was having a shoe sale. En route to the shoe department, Marquis says Patterson noticed a security officer closely following them. He says it was obvious the officer was tailing them, but Marsell, ahead of the group, didn't notice until he reached one of three tables displaying shoes and boots and other discounted items.

"Next thing I looked up and there was this cop, right behind me," Marsell says. "I asked was there a problem, and he said yes, he was making sure the situation was all right. I said, 'What situation?' He said, 'Don't worry about it, partner.'"

Marsell moved to another table. The Ectors say the officer--they described him as white, in his late 30s with glasses and grayish hair--then leaned on a nearby pillar, folded his arms and stared at Marsell while he looked for shoes. Meanwhile, the three bantered and amused nearby customers.

"They were funny," says Jose Rey, a southeast Valley resident who was in the store with his wife. "They were telling stories, and we were laughing. They said they were going to the clubs and they were looking for shoes to buy.

"They were laughing because my wife said to them, 'Don't do what my husband is doing, because he's buying the wrong size.' They said, 'Well, don't do what we're doing, because we attract cops.' I thought they were fooling around, but then I saw they were for real."

The officer was standing about eight to ten feet away from Marsell.
"He was looking at them all mean, like they was going to steal something," says Tracy Johnson, 21, an employee of Microchip Technology in Chandler who was in the store shopping with a friend. She and her friend are also African American. "Then he came up to them like they was throwing shoes at old ladies."

Marquis took a pair of shoes from the table to try on while Marsell took a single boot to the register to ask whether that style was available in his size. When the clerk couldn't locate any, Marsell asked him to tell the officer to leave him alone.

"I said, 'Look, I'm not trying to steal nothing, I don't even got nowhere to put it. I'm not going to steal a boot unless I put it on my head.' We laughed, but [the officer] didn't like it."

Marquis says that's when the officer made the comment about the potential for Marsell to be wearing more jewelry than he already had on.

"My brother said, 'That don't make no sense. What does that mean--is it a problem that I have on jewelry now?' The officer said my brother had to leave, that he was going to count to three," Marquis says.