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Grocery Chain Settles Abuse Lawsuit

Albertsons and a defunct security firm will pay $310,000 to four teens mistreated by security guards at a Palmdale store.

January 31, 2006|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

The Albertsons supermarket chain and a now-defunct security firm have agreed to pay $310,000 to four teenagers who were held for hours by two security guards who forced them to drink liquor, molested one of the youths -- a 13-year-old girl -- and punched another, a boy who tried to help her.

The incident occurred in June 2004 at an Albertsons in Palmdale.

Under terms of the settlement, the girl -- whose clothes were removed by a guard -- will receive $115,000, and the boy who was punched will receive $75,000. The other two, a boy and a girl, will receive $60,000 each. The money will go into trusts until the youths turn 18.

The guards, Omar Maurice Ray, 24, of Los Angeles and Jermar Jackson, 22, of Inglewood, pleaded no contest in January 2005 to child-abuse charges. Ray was sentenced to four years in prison and Jackson to time already served, three years' probation and 120 days working along state highways.

"These were kids, and what occurred to them should not have occurred," said Frank D'Oro, attorney for Albertsons Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based company. Albertsons' policies mandate that a female store employee be present when any females are detained.

A female employee was present at the start of the teenagers' detention but left when the guards said they were going to release the youths. But they continued to hold them for more than an hour.

"We felt the primarily responsible party was the security company, [but] it was best for all concerned to try to resolve the case," D'Oro said.

The incident started when one of the boys asked one of the guards inside the store to buy vodka, said Robert Drescher, attorney for three of the teenagers. Ray told him that he did not have to buy it but could put it down his pants and leave the store. Ray demonstrated, using a champagne bottle.

The boy did as advised, Drescher said, and was followed out of the store by Ray and Jackson, who then accused him of shoplifting. They took him and the 13-year-old girl, who had been waiting outside the store, into custody.

The guards then pulled the two other teenagers from their car in the parking lot and walked them back to the store in handcuffs.

Neither Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies nor the teenagers' parents were called, according to the lawsuit filed in September 2004 by the parents on behalf of the four teens.

Both sides agreed that, once back inside, the guards forced the teens to drink liquor. If they did not drink the entire bottle of vodka, the guards threatened, they would send the teen who first took the liquor outside to jail, Drescher said. The 13-year-old girl said she preferred whiskey to vodka, however. Ray stole a bottle of Jack Daniels from the store and brought it back to the teens.

When one bottle was gone, two of the teens were released. Then the guards took the 13-year-old girl into a separate room and began to take off her clothes.

The remaining teenager "heard her saying 'No, no,' and he opens the door and Ray starts punching him," Drescher said. "What saved her is that she began throwing up over everyone and everything."

The boy and the 13-year-old were let go after the girl's parents went to the store looking for her, about three hours after they entered the store, according to the lawsuit. The girl who was released first was found unconscious on a street corner by a passerby.

The security firm that hired Ray and Jackson, S&J Security and Investigations Inc. of Los Angeles, is no longer in business. Its insurance company, Scottsdale Insurance, will pay its portion of the settlement.

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