Kay Sandercock took note of the white couple walking down an aisle who noticed her before saying "to heck with it" and leaving the store. A few minutes later Sandercock wrote a note that read: "Gypsies eating deli by cheese, now at meat."
But the incident that caused the biggest stir that day began with Alfred Ashford's entry into the Safeway at about 5 pm. That prompted Sandercock to write, "Black male at meat.... Has receipt in hand." Holding his shrink-wrapped pork chops, Ashford was staring at the meat case, searching for steaks to get in exchange.
Sandercock read her notes during a deposition in a discrimination and false-arrest trial in Multnomah County Circuit Court against her, Safeway and her employer, DePaul Industries. The suit ended last month with a $44,000 out-of-court settlement for Ashford, a 65-year-old former school counselor who supplements his income by playing piano at a church.
Portland police don't track arrests for shoplifting by race. But Ashford's attorney, Greg Kafoury, says this case and others like it represent an underreported phenomenon of racial profiling, "shopping while black."
"It's a major problem," Kafoury says. "Black kids grow up being identified as criminals when they go into a store. It's one of the first ways they realize that life is going to be different."
Ashford's case also represents what lawyers nationwide warn is a growing national trend in litigation: a rise in discrimination and false-arrest suits against retailers who single out black customers. Last year, the Macy's department-store chain settled a racial-profiling case in U.S. District Court in New York state for $600,000.
Of course, no one is asserting the profiling is new. At the Southeast Portland Safeway, Ashford felt a familiar discomfort when he noticed the guard, Sandercock, standing a step behind him. He turned to explain that he was going to exchange the pork chops for steak. He says she stood stonefaced and did not respond to his explanation.
So Ashford found some chuck-eye steaks that cost a little less than the chops, went to a cashier, turned in the meat, got a receipt and some change and walked out the door.
"Pretty soon this heavyset guy comes running toward me," Ashford told WW last week, recounting his interaction with meat clerk Dean Richey. "He lets out this stormy tirade about 'stealing meat' and 'you're a thief' and 'going to court.'"
Soon, Ashford said, the store manager and Sandercock joined Richey, forming a circle. "They kinda walled me in and I felt like I was captive," Ashford recalled. "This guy Dean, his language was becoming more abusive. I was very, very nervous."
Richey held a receipt in the air, Ashford says, asserting that it was "bogus." Ashford finally persuaded everyone to go back inside and talk to the clerk who'd handled the exchange.
In a handwritten account of the incident, Richey, the meat man, wrote: "I instantly realized that the receipt in my hand was not the receipt he had used for the return. I had picked up the wrong receipt!!! Ooooppss!!!"
Richey offered his hand in apology, but Ashford refused it. Instead, he found Kafoury and filed a $150,000 lawsuit.
Safeway did not return calls seeking comment.