Florida woman files discrimination suit against bank after arrest

The lawsuit alleges that Linda Stephens, a 70-year-old retired teacher, suffered a fractured nose during the process of her arrest after an incident at the MidFlorida Credit Union.

A Florida woman is suing a credit union for racial discrimination after getting arrested in what’s being referred to as another case of “banking while Black.”

The matter got out of hand when Black retired teacher Linda Stephens, 70, entered the MidFlorida Credit Union in Bartow in April 2021 to inquire about a $600 ATM deposit. Now, the financial institution is the subject of a civil lawsuit brought by renowned civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, The Credit Union Times reported.

Crump claims that his client, a member at MidFlorida for nearly 50 years, was subjected to racial discrimination, resulting in her arrest for disorderly conduct, as well as mistreatment and abuse by police officers.

banking while Black, Linda Stephens and Ben Crump
Retired Florida teacher Linda Stephens (left), 70, who is represented by famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump (right), has filed a lawsuit against MidFlorida Credit Union in a situation being referred to as “banking while Black.” (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com/WKMG News 6 ClickOrlando)

Stephens made a $600 cash deposit to pay her mortgage at the Bartow branch ATM on the morning of April 13, 2021, at around 1 a.m., and she left with a deposit receipt. According to the lawsuit, Stephens became visibly distraught and concerned about her $600 when it still hadn’t been posted the next day after two additional visits to the bank. The branch manager then came into the office and demanded that an irate Stephens calm down, then proceeded to call the police.

A Bartow Police officer showed up shortly after and silently waited behind Stephens. The lawsuit asserted that after a brief interval, a different officer rushed into the office brandishing his weapon and saying he believed the voice on the phone mentioned someone was carrying a gun.

The lawsuit claims that Stephens, now terrified for her life, explained to the police that she only needed access to the deposited ATM funds. She added that she had never had a gun or even fired one.

“A few moments later, the police officer placed Ms. Stephens under arrest and led her out to his car,” per the lawsuit, the CU Times reported. “She was kept in the hot police car in 90-degree heat for 20 minutes while the officers met outside.” In the interim, it alleges, “none of the MidFlorida employees said a word in Ms. Stephens’ defense or tried to explain the situation to the police officers.”

However, Stephens’ complaint and a police report gave very different accounts of what happened at the bank that day.

According to the police report, Stephens was causing a loud disturbance by screaming and yelling in the branch. The MidFlorida manager warned they would call the police if she did not calm down, they asserted.

Two police officers arrived, and Stephens allegedly claimed “law enforcement was here to shoot her and tase her,” the report stated.

The police detained Stephens for disorderly conduct, but she refused to get up and leave the branch or get in the police car. She was allegedly dragged from the police vehicle, thrown on the ground, and then taken into a 4-by 6-foot holding area at the Bartow Police Station.

Later that day, authorities took Stephens to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, where she received further mistreatment.

“While at the Sheriff’s department, Ms. Stephens was stripped naked and transported to the jail annex,” according to the lawsuit, CU Times reported. “What followed was 24 hours of a living hell in which Ms. Stephens spent a night completely nude on a cement floor of a jail annex cell. Humiliated, dehumanized and exhausted, she was released the next day.”

The lawsuit alleges that Stephens suffered a fractured nose during the process. Stephens further asserted that she was diagnosed with PTSD and receives psychiatric and therapy treatment due to the emotional distress and trauma she endured.

A MidFlorida regional manager visited Stephens at her home days later, on April 16, 2021, and expressed regret for the incident and criticism of the credit union’s handling. Stephens received a voucher for a $300 mortgage payment.

In a statement, MidFlorida officials expressed regret to Stephens but also took pride in its inclusive and equitable culture and the superior service it claims to offer to all its members.

“We’re sorry for any wrongful treatment that Ms. Stephens may have encountered while in police custody,” MidFlorida said in a prepared statement. “Police were contacted to calm an escalating situation with an irate customer because we have an obligation to provide a secure environment for all members in the branch conducting financial transactions.”

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