Students accused of shoplifting

By Joelle McGinnis

Four black students are considering filing formal complaints against the Holmes Student Center Bookstore for harassment by employees after being accused of shoplifting Jan. 21.

NIU student Todd Ellis said he and three female students were watched and followed by student employees after entering the bookstore.

The students were later stopped by University Police while shopping, asked for IDs and taken to the bookstore office without explanation, Ellis said.

In the office, Ellis said he was asked to empty his pockets. “I asked what was going on and the offier said he was conducting an investigation on an alleged theft,” he said.

Ellis said, “I felt I was being harassed and the way the employees were handling the situation was inappropriate. The whole situation was not handled correctly.”

He said UP officer John Hunter said, “Shut up and sit down” when the students asked the employees for their names but none responded.

Ellis said one student employee said, “You people always want attention.”

Student Center Bookstore Manager Stanley Shedaker had no comment Monday about the incident and said he had been directed to send all information to William Herrmann, director of bond revenue operations. Herrmann was unable to be reached for comment.

NIU Ombudsman Bertrand Simpson said, “If the students choose to go beyond the confines of the university to solve the problem I can’t dissuade them, but they need to understand that the institution’s behavior to oppress (their actions) is not a racial matter.”

In a meeting Monday, administrators discussed the incident and “put forward elements of resolution (that individuals involved) have an almost immediate responsibility to put into practice,” Simpson said.

Those attending the meeting include Herrmann; Curtiss Behrens, assistant to the president and human resources developer; John Dalton, vice president for student affairs; judicial office director Larry Bolles; and UP Capt. James Webster. Several bookstore staff members also attended the meeting.

Simpson said the bookstore needs to tighten security. One way to do this is to stablish a process of dealing with students suspected of shoplifting, publicize the information and stick to it, he said.

“Bookstore employees feel some black students take it upon themselves to play games with employees by picking up merchadise as if shoplifting and walk around not doing anything illegal,” Simpson said.

Simpson said the bookstore is at an “impasse” because “security is not top-of-the-line.”

University Legal Counsel George Shur said shoplifting at the bookstore has been a major problem and there are a number of incidents each year.

Simpson said, “People ripping off the bookstore are not just black students – (those involved) need to refrain from racial accusations.”

CHANCE Director Leroy Mitchell was contacted by the accused students. “The students deserved at last an apology, but that’s not what they received,” he said.