On Aug. 22, Shipt employee and University alum John Lankeu Muteleu said he was checking out at the Meijer on Ann Arbor-Saline Road when a Meijer employee called the police on him for potential shoplifting. As a grocery deliverer, Muteleu had a prepaid order on Shipt, a grocery delivery platform, as well as a small order for himself. Muteleu has worked for Shipt since May and had previously delivered orders for Meijer.
Meijer management did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
As Muteleu was loading his groceries in his car, he said he was approached by two police officers and an employee who quickly surrounded him as he was about to leave. Muteleu said he was accused of stealing items from Meijer that night and was racially profiled by the officers and employees present.
“They did not identify themselves when they approached me, but I later found out (the employee’s name) through management,” Muteleu said. “The police officers did not talk. They did not say anything to me at all. They just surrounded me.”
Muteleu explained that grocery deliverers get a code on their phone for prepaid orders, which gets scanned into the system at Meijer. Employees then check the orders to make sure the items are correct.
“Once you pay, they see that everything is there and all set, they do their thing on the screen, so that screen disappears, ready for the next customer,” Muteleu said. “That’s what I did that night and the employee that was there verified (me) and went back to helping other clients.”
According to Muteleu, the employee that approached him did not initially identify himself. The employee allegedly accused Muteleu of stealing the prepaid items and demanded to see a receipt. Muteleu said he was shocked and did not initially show his receipt. Muteleu said the incident escalated as the police prevented him from walking forward any further. Upon second request, Muteleu showed the employee his receipt.
“In the vestibule, I was accosted by the two policemen and the gentleman, and when he saw my receipt on my phone, he mumbled something and then walked back to the store with his two policemen,” Muteleu said.
Patrol Services Lt. Sean McCormick of Pittsfield Township confirmed that an officer from the Pittsfield Police Department responded to an incident of possible theft that night.
“Meijer called and said there was a guy in a pink shirt loading up on liquor near the grocery exit with lots of top end shelf bottles in the shopping cart, which has been stolen from Meijer frequently,” McCormick said. “We did have an officer respond to the parking lot. The caller said he was satisfied the officer was in the lot and would call back if the subject runs.”
McCormick, who has worked at the PPD for 25 years, confirmed this is typically how they respond to incidents.
“Their employees do a pretty good job overall, and I know they get in trouble if they stop somebody or take somebody back to their office if they haven’t met the elements of their crime,” McCormick said. “If Meijer or any other business says, ‘Hey, we believe someone is shoplifting, they’re loading up items,’ such as this one … we’ll respond. We’ll typically wait out in the parking lot in case they run out in the store and we’ll take them into custody.”
Muteleu said he briefed the manager on duty about the situation, telling him he was racially profiled by the employee. The manager promised to call Muteleu after he had investigated the incident.
Muteleu also said he spoke with Tim Black, the store’s director. He said Black did not believe him when he said he felt racially profiled during the incident.
“This is racial profiling,” Muteleu said. “And he did not even blink for a second, and he said, ‘No, we don’t do that at Meijer.’ How do you know? Do you speak for the entire Meijer?”
This is not the first time Meijer has been accused of defending or enforcing racist practices. In July, Meijer received criticism after an employee at the South Haven store was told to remove her Black Lives Matter face mask following a customer’s complaint. In a statement to the Detroit Metro Times, Frank Guglielmi, senior director of communications for Meijer, defended the store’s policy requiring “neutrality” in employees’ outfits.
“Meijer has specific guidelines for team member uniforms, which include face coverings,” Guglielmi said. “We provide all our team members with face masks and if they choose to use their own mask, they need to adhere to our guidelines for neutrality.”
Black did not respond to multiple requests for comment and directed The Michigan Daily to Guglielmi, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Muteleu said Black was adamant that the police were not called solely because of Muteleu, claiming other events had required the police there earlier.
“(Black said,) ‘No, those policemen were not called for you, it was for another incident. There were so many instances happening on Saturday night and the cops were involved, but that was a separate incident,’” Muteleu said.
Muteleu said he felt dismissed by Black. Two days later, the manager who was on duty called Muteleu and apologized for the incident. Muteleu said the manager confirmed that the police were called because they suspected Muteleu was “shoplifting in progress.”
Muteleu said he asked management where the employee was located in the store and how he was able to see Muteleu check out, since Muteleu never saw the employee until he approached him afterward.
“They did not tell me where he was located,” Muteleu said. “Whether he’s in the basement or whether he could see me, they didn’t verify that.”
Muteleu said he was confused why the employee called the police before approaching him to ask if he had paid.
“Why did (the employee) have the time to call the police then and not have the time to talk with me at the kiosk or page the other employee whose job it was to verify my receipt?” Muteleu asked.
He said the manager did not say why the employee had decided to call the police instead of speaking with Muteleu or the other employee on duty. However, the manager said employees are allowed to call the police if they choose, according to Muteleu.
“I asked them, ‘Is this how you handle this all the time?’” Muteleu said. “And Brian said, ‘No, but we are allowed to do this.’”
Muteleu asked that Meijer issue him a public apology and have some type of action taken against the employee who called the police.
“Why don’t you start by writing an email and putting exactly what your findings were from the investigation and communicate what you’re communicating to me over the phone in writing?” Muteleu said.
The manager allegedly told Muteleu he would reach out to the corporate office to see if they could issue a public apology. A few days later, Muteleu was told that no public apology or email would be sent around to employees. Muteleu said they also denied him access to the CCTV footage and refused to discuss if and any disciplinary action will be taken against the employee. Muteleu received a $50 gift card as an apology for the incident.
Daily Staff Reporter Alyssa McMurtry can be reached at email@example.com.