A piece of American political folklore says that ‘you can’t fight City Hall.’ But as Wal-Mart is finding out in the small city of Berwyn, Illinois, sometimes City Hall fights back. Berwyn is a city with just over 100 years of history. According to the Berwyn Development Corporation, “Berwynites are justly proud of ‘Beautiful Berwyn.’ With its tree-lined streets, sturdy brick bungalows, and Victorian ‘painted ladies,’ Berwyn continues to be a stable, safe, and diverse community. The city is described as a melting pot of ethnic populations: Families with Czech and Bohemian roots, together with many Italian-Americans, Greeks, Lithuanians, Poles, Yugoslavians and Ukrainians, have been joined in recent years by Hispanics, African and Asian Americans who now call Berwyn home. As Berwyn moves into the 21st century, its traditionally hard-working, middle-class, mostly blue collar families, who were admitted conservative in their outlook, are joined by young, professional families and a growing population of gay and lesbian residents. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a former Alderman from the city of Berwyn, population around 50,000 people, is suing Wal-Mart over an incident that took place July 27, 2008 inside Wal-Mart #2204 on Des Plaines Avenue in neighboring Forest Park, Illinois. Michael Phelan, 40, a former Alderman in Berwyn, had a confrontation with a “security” guard at Wal-Mart. The store ended up filing a disorderly conduct complaint against the public official. But the disorderly conduct complaint was later dropped. The incident occurred when Phelan was stopped by a Wal-Mart “security” worker as the Alderman was on his way out of the store. The guard asked Phelan to show him his receipt. “He felt accosted by the security guard,” Phelan’s attorney later told the Sun-Times. Phelan allegedly asked to speak to the manager, but he was not allowed to do so. The “security” guard ended up physically restraining Phelan. “The security guard threw him to the ground and then after that, police were called.” Phelan’s lawyer said. In his lawsuit, Phelan, who was then still an Alderman, said the incident caused him “great embarrassment, humiliation and damage to his reputation.” The filing of the lawsuit notes that Phelan is seeking at least $50,000 in damages.
Wal-Mart “security” personnel have gotten into trouble in the past over their ‘hands on’ approach to ‘loss prevention.’ In this case, regardless of what Alderman Phelan said inside the Forest Park Wal-Mart, the incident ended in a scuffle, and Wal-Mart employees were accused of pushing the elected official to the ground. Sprawl-Busters has written about several cases in which alleged shoplifters were wrestled to the ground and died as a result of Wal-Mart’s aggressive hospitality. When this story was reported in the local media in the fall of 2008, Alderman Phelan was considered a shoplifting suspect. Phelan was issued a local ordinance citation on two counts of disorderly conduct after he reportedly refused to show a store security guard his receipt before leaving the building, and scuffled with store security staff, according to a Forest Park Police incident report. Forest Park police received a report of a disturbance at about 1:15 p.m. at the store. According to the report, security guard Louis Jones was working the door checking receipts as customers were leaving. When Jones asked to see Phelan’s receipt for proof that he purchased the items he had just checked out in his shopping cart, Phelan refused, the police report said. “Phelan then crumpled the receipt into his hand refusing to show it, now causing a scene by loudly questioning store policy,” according to the report. Jones, who also works as a police officer, didn’t know whether the items in the cart were purchased, because Phelan refused to show him the receipt, the report said. Jones said he was a police officer, reportedly blocked Phelan’s path and pushed his shopping cart to the side because he feared that a retail theft may be in progress, the police report said. “Phelan was getting out of control,” Jones told police, and he tried to handcuff him. After putting the first cuff on, “Phelan resisted to the point of having to be taken to the ground to complete the handcuffing,” according to police reports. During the scuffle, Jones cut two fingers. Administrative law judge Perry Gulbrandsen, a retired Cook County judge, set Phelan’s trial for 3 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2008. Phelan’s lawyer asked for copies of the videos taken at the front door and at the rear of the store. Phelan told Forest Park police that he did show Jones his receipt, but refused to hand it over for inspection “feeling this was some violation of his rights,” according to the police report. He demanded to see the store policy and when he was refused, he reportedly questioned why he was being stopped, police reports said. “Phelan states he was slammed to the floor for no reason and then hauled back to the security office in handcuffs,” police reports said. Phelan received a cut to his left wrist. The irony here: An assistant store manager at Wal-Mart checked Phelan’s receipt, and confirmed that all items in Phelan’s possession had been properly purchased. The store ended up replacing the ice cream in Phelan’s cart, which had melted, at his request. A Forest Park police officer told Phelan that Wal-Mart would seek an order barring Phelan from entering the Wal-Mart, and that he would be arrested for trespassing if he returned to the store. Wal-Mart Loss Prevention Agent Jermaine Simpson told police he recognized Phelan “as somebody who had given patrons and employees a hard time in the past, being rude and making racist remarks,” police reports said. Simpson said Forest Park police had been called to that Wal-Mart previously “for Mr. Phelan’s behavior, but (he) has always been able to leave the store prior to (police officers’) arrival,” the report said. Readers are urged to call the Forest Park Wal-Mart at 708-771-2270 and leave the following message: “Please tell your ‘security’ staff to keep their hands off of customers in the store — and not to accost them in the parking lot. What happened to Alderman Phelan — regardless of what he said or did — should never have led to a violent physical confrontation — even if your ‘security’ person was an off-duty cop. It turns out that Phelan had not stolen anything from you. For that, he was thrown to the ground, and cuffed. No wonder Wal-Mart is now being sued by the former Alderman. Your company has had people die while being cuffed and pinned dto the ground. What you sell at your store is not worth the physical danger that you place your customers in. Asking every shopper to produce receipts is counter-productive — because that scan should be happening at the sale register. My advice would be to settle this case, pay Mr. Phelan to get his case out of the headlines, and then train your ‘security’ staff not to wrestle people to the ground — but to call the police instead. And my advice to Mr. Phelan is to tell all this friends to stay out of Wal-Mart.”