A Black man who went to a U.S. Bank branch in Minnesota last year to cash his paycheck ended up being detained and handcuffed by police after he was accused of presenting a fake check. It was later established the check Joe Morrow presented was real.
According to KSTP, Morrow had gone to the bank to cash his $900 paycheck after completing his shift at a grocery distributor. But what he thought was going to be a routine transaction after presenting the check and his ID to the teller rather turned out to be the opposite.
“They were all looking at me and just staring at me. And then looking at the check and then staring at me again and I’m already knowing what they’re thinking – that the check (is) fake,” Morrow, who also had an account with the bank at the time, said.
“The manager? He came over and said, ‘Joe Morrow? Your check (is) fake.’ And I said, what?” he added. “He said, ‘you people always coming in here with fake checks.’”
Morrow said the bank manager, John Askwith, claimed he had gotten in touch with the company, and they had confirmed the check was indeed fake. But recently released police body camera footage that was obtained by the news outlet shows Askwith actually called the company only after the police responded to the scene and handcuffed Morrow. Askwith had earlier called the police to report “a possible fraudulent check”, and Morrow was in the manager’s office when the police arrived.
“When I’m coming out of (the manager’s) office I was handcuffed… people were looking… like I’m a criminal or something,” Morrow recalled.
In the early minutes of the footage after the officer arrives, Morrow can be heard saying the incident is racially motivated. “I work there, bro. And I’m going to report you too, bro. This is racial,” Morrow tells Askwith. And though Morrow doesn’t appear to yell or swear, the officer, identified as Sgt. Justin Pletcher, responds to his racial profiling allegation by threatening to arrest him.
“Joe, I need you to calm down, first of all, OK?” Pletcher says. “Don’t say anything stupid because you’re just going to get arrested for it.”
After a second officer arrived, police said the manager asked them to take Morrow to another office. But Morrow was handcuffed after he appeared to hastily stand up from his chair. Pletcher stated in the incident that Morrow “flexed at John (Askwith) in a threatening manner.”
“I didn’t threaten him. I got up, like, I’m mad,” Morrow recalled. “The guy told the officer, can you get him out of my office? He might take something on my desk… that’s when I got super mad. I’m going to touch something on your desk?”
And though it was later established the check Morrow presented was real, his attorney, Rich Hechter, said the bank never formally responded to two letters they sent asking for clarification on what happened and also for a settlement.
“They’ve never responded formally, they’ve never taken any accountability, they’ve never truly apologized to Mr. Morrow,” Hetcher told KSTP in October. “I really thought that the bank would be upfront about this, (that) they would be apologetic.”
U.S. Bank, however, later reached a confidential settlement with Morrow. But despite the settlement, a spokesperson for the bank disputed the allegations. “At U.S. Bank, we’re committed to fairness toward everyone we serve regardless of race,” the spokesperson said.
The bank also said it found nothing wrong with the way the employees handled the incident. “After a thorough internal investigation, there is nothing to indicate that the customer’s race or ethnicity played a factor in the service he received at this branch,” the spokesperson added.
Morrow’s encounter throws further light on recent similar instances involving Black Americans who have been victims of bias while patronizing the services of banks. Some of those experiences have been shared on social media with the hashtag “Banking while Black”.
“This is a classic example of where things escalated beyond what they needed to escalate to,” Samuel Myers Jr., a professor at the University of Minnesota who has conducted research on racial disparities in banking for over three decades, told KSTP. “I wish I could say that this was an aberration. I wish I could say this was an outlier, but it happens a lot.”
Myers added: “The fact is these are experiences that Black people disproportionately encounter and the evidence is indisputable.”
Joe Morrow went to a @usbank branch to cash his paycheck. The bank accused him of fraud, then he was threatened with arrest and handcuffed. Joe's paycheck was real. See the bodycam video from a responding officer and watch @Eric_Rasmussen's story tonight at 10pm on @KSTP. pic.twitter.com/xVgVN8DY7i
— Tracy Maher (@tracym) December 7, 2021