Bank apologizes for calling police on black customer trying to deposit checks

©Detroit Free Press

Sauntore Thomas, 44, of Detroit, sued TCF Bank on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2019, alleging it refused to deposit his check from a race discrimination lawsuit he settled because he is black. - Deborah Gordon Law/Debra Gordon Law/TNS

DETROIT — TCF Bank says it should not have called police on an African American customer who was trying to deposit three checks that were part of a race discrimination lawsuit settlement with his former employer.

The bank suspected the checks were fraudulent and called police, triggering a race discrimination lawsuit against the bank on Wednesday by Sauntore Thomas, 44, of Detroit, who says he was humiliated after four officers showed up at the bank when he was trying to cash the checks.

“We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banking center. Local police should not have been involved,” TCF said in a statement Thursday. “We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind. We take extra precautions involving large deposits and requests for cash and in this case, we were unable to validate the checks presented by Mr. Thomas and regret we could not meet his needs.”

According to TCF, the checks that Thomas presented displayed a watermark that read VOID when they were scanned in a web viewer, which raised suspicion for fraud.

The checks, though, were legitimate as Thomas deposited them that same day at a Chase bank in Detroit and they cleared within 12 hours, said his lawyer, Deborah Gordon.

TCF’s apology came hours after the Detroit Free Press published an article about Thomas’ experience at the branch on Middlebelt Road in Livonia, where he went Tuesday to deposit his lawsuit settlement checks.

According to Thomas, he met with an assistant manager to open an additional savings account and told her that he wanted to deposit the checks and withdraw some cash.

Thomas did not disclose the amount of the settlement checks as it was part of a confidential lawsuit settlement.

According to Thomas, the assistant bank manager appeared suspicious, explained the checks would need to be “verified” and walked to a back area to “call in the checks” before asking him: “How did you get this money?”

Thomas answered the money was from a lawsuit settlement. But about 10 minutes later, he said, four police officers showed up: two entered the lobby, two stayed outside. One of the officers told him that the bank had reported “a problem” with his checks, and wanted to know where he got them, he said.

Thomas called his lawyer for help. Gordon said she called the TCF bank branch, explained that this was part of a lawsuit, and forwarded them a copy of the court complaint.

But the bank, Thomas said, still refused to deposit the checks, and instead filed a police report against him for check fraud.

According to TCF, the bank was unable to verify the checks and said the company that wrote them wouldn’t provide details because of the confidentiality of the lawsuit.

Thomas closed his TCF account that day, left the premises and went to a Chase bank branch in Detroit, where he opened an account and deposited the checks. They cleared the next day, he said.

“I didn’t deserve treatment like that,” Thomas told the Free Press. “I’m a United States veteran. I have an honorable discharge from the Air Force. They discriminated against me because I’m black. None of this would have happened if I were white.”

Thomas was not arrested. No charges were filed.

Thomas, though, is demanding answers.

“I want to be vindicated,” said Thomas, who feared being arrested that day.

“I feel very intimidated because I knew that if I would have gotten loud, they would have had me on the ground for disturbance of the peace. But I didn’t get loud. I didn’t get confrontational. I did nothing. … It’s frustrating, but I do know God is in control. I will be vindicated because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

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