JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A nationally-recognized trial lawyer is now defending a woman who was wrongly accused of stealing from a Westside Publix. She was hit with a stun gun and arrested by a Jacksonville police officer.
“The fundamental issue here is this police officer being empowered by Publix to harass this Black woman for shopping while Black,” attorney Ben Crump said during a Thursday news conference.
The incident happened in February 2020. Crump said he’s getting involved because his client’s constitutional rights are at stake.
Attorneys say Tawanda Crowell suffered physical and mental trauma and lost her job due to the incident. They believe Publix is responsible.
JSO body camera footage shows the moment Crowell was approached by officer Kevin Munger after a Publix employee reported they “did not see a receipt” after she finished shopping.
- Munger: “Can you just show me your receipt?”
- Crowell: “No, I’m not gonna do that. Y’all profile Black people every day like that.”
UNCUT BODYCAM: Woman wrongly accused of stealing from Jacksonville Publix stunned, arrested (Viewer discretion advised)
With her attorneys by her side Thursday, Crowell said she did show Munger a receipt.
“I just refused to give the receipt at that point because I didn’t know what would happen with the receipt,” Crowell said.
In the video, Crowell offers to go inside the store to look at the cameras, but repeatedly denies giving the officer the receipt or her ID, and he says he will take her to jail.
- Munger: “I’m going to tase you right now. Get out of the car. I’m going to tase you right now.”
The video then shows Crowell being stunned. She was charged with resisting an officer without violence. After the arrest, the officer learned she paid for the items and surveillance video showed it as well.
The State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges, and Crowell is suing Publix for $50,000 in damages.
Court documents show Publix states the officer was not one of its employees and that it didn’t ask him to make an arrest. Publix states it relies on training officers get from the Sheriff’s Office to perform their duties and it states that a Publix employee reporting not seeing a receipt is different from making a false statement. Publix has asked a judge for a summary judgement in its favor.
Crowell’s attorney Steve Combs says he believes Publix exercises some control over these officers.
“Publix created this system. This officer -- why would he have loss prevention training working for JSO? He needed loss prevention training because he was working at Publix,” Combs said.
Her attorneys say they will also pursue the role officers play at Publix as well as their mitigation strategies.
Munger is still employed with JSO and News4Jax has requested his concise history to see if any action was taken by the department after this incident.
The attorneys are asking anyone with additional video of this incident to come forward.