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'Treme' Actor Arrested at Macy's for Buying Mother a $1,350 Watch

By Ben Fractenberg | October 25, 2013 6:55pm | Updated on October 26, 2013 12:42am
 Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police responding to calls of shoplifting at major retailers is an "everyday occurrence" after being asked Firday about a black teen who was detained for credit card fraud after buying a belt with his own debit card at Barneys.
Kelly on Barneys
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DOWNTOWN — The Harlem-born actor who co-starred with Sean Connery in "Finding Forrester" sued the police department and Macy's Thursday for accusing him of credit card fraud after he bought an expensive watch for his mother, according to court papers.

Robert Brown, 29, who currently plays a musician in the HBO series "Treme," was stopped by undercover detectives with the NYPD after buying his mother a $1,350 Movado watch as a graduation present, he told reporters at a press conference Friday night.

His mother was set to graduate that day, June 8, a few hours later. He said he brought the watch to a cashier at Macy's 34th Street flagship, paid for it with his card, signed for it, and the clerk went in the back to clean some glue off the item.

A few minutes later, he was browsing for items at the Sunglasses Hut kiosk nearby, when he was approached by several men who accused him of credit card fraud.

"Honestly, initially, because they were white and it was a bigger guy, I thought it was like some of my friends, some football buddies, like 'Hey, stick 'em up.' You know, just joking," Brown said.

He asked to see the undercover officer's ID and slowly realized that this was no joke.

"I was like, 'OK, this card isn't fake, it's my card. I have so much ID on me...They weren't feeling it."

Brown, who had just gone to get a Social Security card, said he had four types of identification. He showed them a Louisiana driver's license, his New York state driver's license, his passport and his birth certificate, he said.

"I thought I was going to miss my mom's graduation entirely, because I figured I was going to some jail. I didn't know there was a jail inside Macy's," Brown said.

He said he spent an hour handcuffed in a cell while the detectives verified his identification and credit card.

They eventually let him out and an officer drove him to the Jacob K. Javits Center so that he could see his mother graduate from Metropolitan College of New York.

"It was my mother's graduation, so to be late for that was kind of devastating. And albeit I got there eventually, it kind of was a slap in the face," Brown said.

He said the believes he was racially profiled, but filed the lawsuit to find out for sure.

"I believe that's the only thing that I can think, which is why we're doing this so that we can really find out," he said.

He is the third black person to come forward this week to accuse the police and a major Manhattan retailer of racial profiling.

Two other people came forward this week to accuse Barneys and the NYPD of working together to detain them after they had made legitimate purchases and accusing them of credit card fraud.

Trayon Christian, 20, was arrested in April after purchasing a Salvatore Ferragamo belt for $350 from Barneys flagship Madison Avenue store with his debit card.

He left the retailer without incident, but then was stopped and handcuffed by police, who told him "could not afford to make such an expensive purchase," according to a lawsuit.

A third black shopper was also arrested for suspected credit card fraud, even though she too used her own card.

Kayla Phillips, 21, was also stopped by police after buying a $2,500 designer bag from Barneys in February, The Daily News reported.

She has filed a $5 million notice of claim against the NYPD, indicating her intent to sue.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly deflected a question regarding Christian's arrest for credit card fraud, telling reporters at a Friday afternoon press conference that shoplifting was an "everyday occurrence" at major retailers.

"What happens is that people are apprehended for shoplifting. Police come. The police will transport them," Kelly said Friday afternoon. "Sometimes it involves more of an investigation. This is an everyday occurrence."

Kelly also said the number of arrests at retailers is in part related to a spike in high-priced thefts and fraud.  

"In the 19th precinct, which is where Barneys is located, the number of grand larcenies has gone up 70 percent this year."

Christian, who is an engineering student at City Tech, said he saved up money for the belt working part-time at the school.

"Barneys is of the opinion that he doesn't fit the profile of someone who should be shopping at Barneys," his lawyer, Michael Palillo told DNAinfo New York on Wednesday. "This is an injustice."

Barneys has since hired a civil rights expert to review its procedures and practices, WNBC reported Friday.