An Illinois woman is suing a car dealership, and others, after she says she was racially profiled and falsely arrested while trying to buy a vehicle.
On March 10, Sade Crockett headed to Fifth-Third Bank in Chicago with her 82-year-old relative Enoch Graves, who was buying her a car as a birthday gift, according to a lawsuit filed Oct. 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.
While at the bank, the two explained to the clerks that they wanted to purchase a vehicle. Since Graves had an account at the bank, the check would be issued from his account, the lawsuit said.
“(The clerks) expressed that the bank could accommodate them without issue, and that cashier’s checks were less susceptible to fraud than personal checks and would give the recipient additional assurances that the check would clear,” the lawsuit said.
Crockett, Graves and the clerks called McGrath Kia in Highland Park and put the call on speaker phone. The car dealers said a cashier’s check drawn from Graves’ account would be “an acceptable form of payment” and said the amount should be $30,710.05, according to the lawsuit.
They also said Graves did not need to come with her to purchase the vehicle, the lawsuit said. Crockett dropped Graves off and headed to the car dealership.
Once she arrived, she “noticed a sense of unwelcomeness” from the predominantly white employees, the lawsuit said.
“Sade was wrongfully discriminated against based upon her race while trying to lawfully purchase a vehicle gifted to her by her family member,” Crockett’s attorney Halil Hampton, with Hampton and Hampton, LLP, told McClatchy News in a statement.
Crockett test drove a 2021 Chevy Blazer LT and told the two dealers she wanted to buy the vehicle. She then gave them the cashier’s check she had gotten from the bank, court documents said.
The two dealers went to call the bank and verify the check, however, they did not call the same branch that Crockett visited with Graves, the lawsuit said.
The document says the two also never mentioned the phone call they had earlier with the bank tellers. Fifth-Third then “without adequate investigation or due diligence” told the car dealers that the check was fraudulent.
At that time, the dealers called police and accused Crockett of having a fraudulent check, “with no attempt to contact the branch where the check was drawn,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit says Crockett’s race was a factor in the way she was treated.
“McGrath Kia deviated from its own policy and practice to return checks to customers and decline the sale, when the validity of a check may be in question. McGrath Kia deviated from this policy and practice; based solely upon (Crockett’s) race, and instead called the police for (Crockett) to be arrested,” the lawsuit said.
When police arrived, Crockett tried to explain to the officers and the dealers that Graves was purchasing the vehicle for her and that they went to get the check together earlier in the day, but she said they would not listen.
One of the officers called the bank branch that issued the check, but the lawsuit said the officer did not provide the branch with Graves’ name. The bank teller told the officer, if the dealers “told you that the check was fraudulent, then the check was likely fraudulent,” the lawsuit said.
The teller also told the officer that the bank did not have a customer named Sade Crockett and the bank’s systems were down, so they could not check the validity of the check, according to the lawsuit.
At that point, the officer told the teller that “‘people from those neighborhoods, are probably using (Crockett) as a ‘tool’ to purchase the vehicle with a fraudulent check,” the lawsuit said.
When the officer returned to the car dealership lobby, Crockett was arrested.
“Officers handcuffed, searched, seized, and forcibly removed (Crockett) from McGrath Kia and placed her in the police car in front of a large crowd of people. As a result of these unlawful actions, (Crockett) was brought to tears and began to have a nervous breakdown, as she knew she had done nothing wrong,” the lawsuit said.
Crockett’s case was written about in news articles, and she had to appear in court five times before her charges were ultimately dismissed in July.
The court process took a toll on Crockett, causing her to break down crying in an elevator at one point, asking, “Why is this happening to me?” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Crockett suffered “emotional anxiety, mental trauma, humiliation, fear, stress, pain and suffering, and other damages.”
“The discrimination resulted in her unlawful arrest and prosecution as well as the disparagement of her name and likeness,” Hampton said.
When the charges were finally dismissed, the prosecutor told Crockett, “Sorry it took so long,” court documents said.
“My team’s goal in the lawsuit is to send a message to the defendants that such treatment of a person cannot be tolerated at this day and age in our country,” Hamilton said.
The lawsuit was filed against McGrath Kia, Fifth-Third Bank, the two car dealers, the two responding officers and the city of Highland Park.
McClatchy News reached out to the attorneys for all listed defendants but did not immediately hear back.
Highland Park is about 27 miles north of Chicago.