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Target apologizes after Black teens are detained and handcuffed at Westlake Village store

An image from video shows teens during the incident at the Westlake Village Target.
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Seventeen-year-old Malik Aaron went with some friends to Target last weekend, looking for snacks after their weekly high school ministry at Calvary Community Church.

Minutes later, sheriff’s deputies had arrived at the Westlake Village store, placing him and one of his friends in handcuffs and detaining another, according to his mother, La Shaun Aaron. The three teens, all of them Black, were eventually released.

Now, Target is publicly apologizing for its handling of the incident, a portion of which was captured in a widely viewed video. The retail giant said it had fired a security staffer and would require that other employees at the store retake mandatory security and racial bias training.

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Aaron, who posted video of the incident involving her son, said Target’s apology was not enough. Both the store’s employees and the responding deputies engaged in racial profiling, she said, resulting in the mistreatment of her son and his friends.

“They took him outside of the store in handcuffs, which is totally humiliating, infuriating, embarrassing and traumatic,” she said.

Aaron, who resides in Thousand Oaks, said the incident began last Sunday. While her son and his friends were looking for snacks, a group of Black men shoplifting iPhones in the electronics section was confronted by store employees, she said.

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A Target worker soon approached the teens, all of whom are 16 or 17, and accused them of loitering, she said.

When the teens tried to leave, store employees moved shopping carts in front of the exits, assuming wrongly that they were also involved in the criminal activity, she said.

“They were targeted because they were children of color,” the 43-year-old mom said. “They were automatically associated with people that had committed a crime because they were also Black.”

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Aaron said her son attempted to film the sheriff’s deputies, only to have one of them slap his phone out of his hand, breaking it. Deputies also shoved him against a counter and threw him into a patrol car, slamming the door on his feet, she said.

The incident took place just a few days before California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced he was launching a civil rights investigation into the Sheriff’s Department, which has been buffeted by allegations of deputy misconduct, controversial shootings and resistance to civilian oversight.

On Friday, the day the attorney general made his announcement, Sheriff’s Capt. Sal “Chuck” Becerra issued a statement about the Target incident, saying deputies had responded to the store as part of a grand theft investigation. Deputies detained three people who had been identified by the store’s “loss prevention officers,” he wrote, but later determined that they were not involved in the grand theft and released them.

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Becerra, who is assigned to the Malibu/Lost Hills station, also said the deputies’ supervisors conducted an investigation and determined there was no evidence to show that a deputies used “physical force” with one of the teens or damaged a cellphone.

The evidence did not support “any allegations of wrongdoing, use of force, violation of our department policies, or violation of any laws on behalf of the deputies,” the sheriff’s captain wrote on the station’s Facebook page.

Toni Jaramilla, an attorney for the Aaron family, questioned how the Sheriff’s Department could have reached a conclusion so quickly about what happened inside the store.

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“How do you conduct a fair, unbiased and thorough investigation without even contacting Malik and the other boys and their parents?” she asked. “That’s not an investigation.”

Jaramilla said she intended to file a civil rights lawsuit against Target on behalf of the Aarons and the other two families whose children were detained. The retail chain, she said, should not only look at its employee training, but also at its hiring and promotional practices to ensure there is racial diversity in store management.

Target, for its part, said it had concluded that one of its employees had violated the company’s security procedures by stopping the customers at the Westlake Village store. The Minneapolis-based company said it was “deeply sorry” for what had happened and wanted “all Target guests to feel welcome and respected whenever they shop in our stores.”

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“Finally, and most importantly, we are reaching out to all of the guests who were involved to offer a personal apology,” the company said in its statement.

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