Woman helps homeless man, store calls police

Safeway apologized after its employees called police on an African-American woman who was helping a homeless person outside their store.

Posted: Aug 3, 2018 10:29 AM
Updated: Aug 3, 2018 11:01 AM

Barbecuing while black. Napping while black. Now add helping homeless people while black to the list of things that can lead to a visit from police.

Employees at a Safeway supermarket in Mountain View, California, called 911 on an African-American woman and her family because they suspected them of shoplifting, police said. Safeway has since apologized for what the store said was a misunderstanding.

Erika Martin told CNN that the incident occurred when she stopped at the store last month to help a homeless man she knew hung out there. She gave him a bag of dog food and some treats for his pit bull. Her two sisters were also there and gave two men care packages with soap, toothpaste, hand sanitizer and other hygiene products.

"I help the homeless as much as I can. I see homeless people weekly and I try help them the best that I can," Martin said.

Martin said her son, who's about to turn 10, and her nieces and nephews went into the store to see if the bakery was giving out free cookies and to get samples from the deli.

Martin stayed outside and talked to her sisters and the man to whom she gave the dog food.

She said a Safeway employee came out of the store, looked directly at her and rushed back inside, which she thought was strange.

As Martin prepared to leave, two police cars drove up and one stopped behind her so she couldn't back out of her parking place. They asked why she was there and if she had any warrants, Martin said. She told them that she'd never even had a parking ticket.

Mountain View Police spokeswoman Katie Nelson said that a Safeway employee called the police and to report a theft in progress. Five officers were dispatched to interview store employees and the Martin family.

"It was extremely clear to us that no one who had been identified was potentially involved in any sort of criminal activity, and we explicitly said as much to Safeway employees," Nelson said.

Martin said one of the officers told her that Safeway had called the police because she matched the description of someone taking items from the store and said the suspect was wearing a spaghetti-strap shirt.

Martin said she was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt that said "Y'all need Jesus," and had not even gone into the store. Nelson said the description "somewhat matched" the top one of Martin's sisters was wearing.

The employee told the police that the children were running back and forth to a car parked outside.

"During the initial dispatch call, a Safeway employee informed our dispatcher that both employees and customers believed a man and a woman as well as children were working together to try and take items from the store," Nelson said.

Martin said the questioning scared her son and he started crying while talking to one of the officers.

He told her that when the children asked for cookies the woman at the bakery counter told him that "We don't have anymore cookies to give to you," Martin said. He said they looked behind the counter and saw that there were cookies back there.

The officer asked if they had taken any cookies and he said no.

"My son was crying so much, he was so scared because he thought he did something wrong. He thought the police were going to arrest him for looking behind the counter," she said. "To see my child in so much fear broke my heart."

She said police let them go after about 30 minutes

"In that short amount of time, we not only determined that no crime occurred, we explicitly told Safeway employees as such. None of the people Safeway identified in their call to us nor in their subsequent interview with us committed any crime whatsoever," Nelson said.

"We were very appreciative of the way the family allowed our officers to wrap up the call, and we apologized for inconveniencing their evening," she said.

After one of Martin's sisters, Faith Martin-Ware, posted a video of the July 8 incident on Facebook, news outlets began picking up on the story.

Martin said she and her sisters had shopped at that store three or four times a week but are not comfortable going back there now.

"We were there to do a good deed and we left feeling humiliated, embarrassed, hurt and shocked," she said.

Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall said in a statement that employees called police because a man suspected of shoplifting there in the past was in the store.

"Safeway has reached out to Ms. Martin to sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding, and we look forward to continuing the discussion regarding her concerns. We have also commenced an internal investigation, which remains ongoing," she said.

Martin said that a store manager has apologized for what happened and she is scheduled to speak with someone with the Safeway corporate office on Wednesday.

Gutshall said that Safeway held store-wide employee meetings earlier this year to reiterate their policies against racial discrimination and racial profiling of customers, and plan to roll out training on implicit bias later this year.

West Lafayette
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 45°
Kokomo
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 39°
Rensselaer
Overcast
43° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 40°
Fowler
Overcast
43° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 40°
Williamsport
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 40°
Crawfordsville
Overcast
44° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 37°
Frankfort
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 43°
Delphi
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 42°
Monticello
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 42°
Logansport
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 39°
Rainfall & even some storms are ahead (with a bit of snow/sleet mix at the onset).
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 300913

Reported Deaths: 5332
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion41330845
Lake26364448
Allen17299290
Elkhart16665212
St. Joseph16319220
Hamilton12459164
Vanderburgh9428112
Tippecanoe826727
Porter791279
Johnson6139164
Hendricks5807154
Vigo574474
Monroe525247
Clark495374
Delaware4789103
Madison4760119
LaPorte446894
Kosciusko446139
Howard325575
Warrick316072
Floyd306177
Bartholomew303262
Wayne295261
Cass293431
Marshall289944
Grant258747
Noble246846
Hancock243749
Henry237136
Boone235154
Dubois230430
Dearborn208829
Jackson206033
Morgan200643
Knox178017
Gibson177022
Clinton174920
Shelby174554
Lawrence171646
DeKalb171229
Adams165219
Miami155114
Wabash153018
Daviess152243
Fayette145233
Steuben141113
Jasper138311
Harrison137624
LaGrange136629
Montgomery131226
Whitley129910
Ripley123714
Decatur123542
Huntington122310
Posey118913
Putnam118326
Wells118327
Randolph117819
White117421
Clay115621
Jefferson114214
Greene100253
Scott99818
Jay95012
Starke89221
Sullivan86615
Fulton81117
Perry80921
Jennings80514
Spencer8047
Fountain7378
Washington7176
Carroll66813
Franklin65925
Orange65728
Vermillion5832
Owen5816
Parke5416
Newton54012
Tipton53726
Rush5216
Blackford51211
Pike50218
Pulaski36810
Martin3485
Brown3263
Benton3251
Crawford2781
Union2621
Switzerland2473
Warren2352
Ohio2257
Unassigned0265

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events