By Al Norman
On December 3rd, a 15 year old black girl will enter a Juvenile Courtroom in Davenport, Iowa to face charges of shoplifting $39 worth of merchandise from the Wal-Mart superstore on West Kimberly Road. Hundreds of similar incidents take place everyday in the Wal-Mart Empire, and most escape notice by the media.
Destiny Crawford, the 15 year old defendant, denies she stole anything from Wal-Mart. But the ordeal she went through after the alleged incident doesn't fit the crime.
According to the family, on August 2, 2009, James Crawford Jr. was shopping for groceries at Wal-Mart. James' teenage sister, Destiny, was in his care while his parents made a short trip to Chicago. Destiny was accompanied by a schoolmate on the shopping trip. While James shopped for necessities, the two teenagers wandered through the aisles, trying on shoes, and looking at trinkets. In the bakery section, the girls met up again with James, who gave them his wallet and a bag of dog food, instructing Destiny to pay for the item with cash at the self-check out and to meet him outside at the car. James waited in a longer line to pay for the groceries with his EBT card.
As the two girls left Wal-Mart, two men--who neither produced identification nor asked the two teenagers for their I.D.--stopped the girls, and accused them of shoplifting. The men physically forced the teenagers back into the store. James saw the men walking his sister and her friend to the other end of the store. He made his way over to the girls and asked the men what was taking place. He was told the teens were being taken to an interrogation room. James stated that he was his sister's guardian and as a minor she needed to have a parent or guardian present. The Wal-Mart employees told James he wasn't allowed in the room. A Wal-Mart manager appeared and stated that she would serve as guardian for Destiny. James refused to agree to his sister or her friend being questioned without his presence, and he tried to follow the girls into the interrogation room.
The girls complied with the order to enter the room, but when James followed, he was pushed out of the way and the door was shut in his face. James says he could hear the men yelling at the girls. One asked, "Why don't you people respect us?" James then called 911. Two Davenport police officers arrived. They didn't identify themselves to James nor did they ask for his version of the incident. They took their place in front of the door.
Within seconds of the officers' arrival, the door to the room opened, and Destiny ran out toward her brother. Destiny had not been told to stay in the room, nor was she being physically restrained. She never reached her brother's side. One of the officers applied an arm bar that put Destiny face down on the floor of Wal-Mart. The officer then dropped his knee into the middle of her back. As her forehead hit the floor, Destiny was lifted up by the back of her shirt and spun around so that her forehead hit the wall. Her face was then manually turned by the officer and pressed into the wall. The officer turned Destiny around so that she was facing him and pressed down on her shoulders until she was sitting on the floor.
As Destiny hit the floor James took a step forward and said, "That is my sister." The second officer told James to step back, and he stepped back. But when Destiny's forehead hit the wall, James stepped forward again and asked, "Why are you doing that to my sister?" The second officer than put James' hands behind his back. James says he knew in that instant that this was an entirely new game and he said nothing else.
James was taken to jail and charged with two misdemeanors: disorderly conduct and interfering with an official act. Destiny was put in a squad car. One officer reportedly took out his stun gun and said to Destiny, "I swear to God I will taze you if you resist." The stun gun was held twelve inches from Destiny's head a little above her ear. Upon arriving at the squad car Destiny had her face forced into the trunk of the car. She was then handcuffed and read her Miranda rights. A short while later, Destiny was released from the squad car to her second oldest brother. She was given a ticket for shoplifting. Destiny was taken to the hospital. She had a concussion, lacerations and bruises. Her hospital bill totaled $3,000.
This week, 4 months after this harrowing incident, the Crawford family has still not seen either the police tapes from this incident, or the Wal-Mart surveillance tapes. James and his family asked Wal-Mart for a copy of the tape. They were told by Wal-Mart that the Davenport Police Department had the tape. The tape eventually showed up in the City Attorney's office. After two months of having the tape and preparing his case, the City Attorney offered to let James see the tape if he would go to trial without a lawyer.
On November 24, 2009, the Assistant County Attorney in Scott County, Iowa wrote to Destiny's Court-appointed attorney, indicating that the County had reviewed the Wal-Mart surveillance video. The Assistant County Attorney said the Wal-Mart tape was "not material or relevant to the case...It does not show the alleged theft, it does not contain a confession by Ms. Crawford or the other involved juvenile, and it does not show the retrieval of the stolen property." The Assistant County Attorney also acknowledged that he had a copy of the police video of the incident, which he said was also 'immaterial and irrelevant to the alleged offense." Destiny's lawyer subpoenaed the Wal-Mart video from the county, but the Assistant County Attorney says he cannot provide that tape, since it is in the hands of the Davenport Police. Neither Wal-Mart nor the Davenport Police want a Rodney King-style video to reach Iowa TV viewers.
So far, the Crawford family has received no apology from either the Davenport Police, or from Wal-Mart over the violent arrest of their daughter for allegedly stealing $39 from the world's richest retailer. Wal-Mart has not dropped the charges, or offered to pay for Destiny's hospital bills.
But they still have time before Destiny walks into that courtroom.
Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and is the author of "Slam Dunking Wal-Mart," and "The Case Against Wal-Mart."