A woman who spent the night in jail after an issue with a $600 ATM deposit is suing Lakeland, Florida-based MidFlorida Credit Union over alleged racial discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
While the lawsuit alleges that a regional manager from MidFlorida followed up after the arrest to say that the credit union handled the situation incorrectly, Linda Stephens, a 70-year-old retired teacher, alleges she has post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident in which MidFlorida “deliberately denied [her] a fair and race-neutral banking transaction.”
Stephens is being represented by prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor and others in wrongful death suits; as well as victims of the Flint water crisis and plaintiffs in at least one Johnson & Johnson talcum powder lawsuit.
Stephens made a cash deposit into an MidFlorida ATM in April 2021, with the intention of using the funds toward her mortgage, she said.
When the funds didn’t post the next day, she went to the branch to seek help but was told her funds hadn’t posted yet due to a mechanical issue with the ATM, which was being addressed by a technician, she said. Her funds would post within hours, she said she was told.
Later that day, Stephens returned to the branch to fill out a dispute form, as the funds still had not been posted. She was again told the funds would be posted within hours, she said.
On the following day, Stephens returned to the branch a third time, as her funds hadn’t yet been posted. After a teller couldn’t confirm whether the deposit had been posted, the lawsuit said Stephens was led into an office where the ATM technician was able to confirm he’d found her $600 in the machine.
“By this time, Ms. Stephens was very distraught and vocally concerned about the status of her $600 as she was relying on that money to pay her mortgage,” the lawsuit said. “The branch manager then came into the office and demanded that Ms. Stephens calm down. Ms. Stephens again pleaded with MidFlorida employees, requesting access to the money she deposited. Instead of assisting her with the transaction, the branch manager called the police on Ms. Stephens.”
A police officer responded to the call, followed by a second police officer who, according to the lawsuit, arrived “with his hand on his gun, stating that he thought somebody on the phone said somebody had a gun.”
“At this point, Ms. Stephens was afraid for her life,” the lawsuit said. “Ms. Stephens told the officers that she just wanted access to her funds, which she deposited into the ATM two days prior. Ms. Stephens also explained that she did not have a gun, never owned a gun, and had never even fired a gun.”
Stephens was then put into a police car, and “none of the MidFlorida employees said a word in Ms. Stephens' defense or tried to explain the situation to the police officers,” the suit said.
The police report, initially reported by Credit Union Times, described the incident differently.
According to the police report, Stephens was yelling and arguing with employees, and was invited into a manager’s office to discuss her concerns. However, she allegedly continued to yell and was informed that if she continued, the police would be called, and they were.
“[Stephens] was advised by the employees that they did not want to have to trespass her, but that she needed to leave. They made multiple requests to get her to leave,” according to the police report. “The defendant raised her voice and began screaming about a gun. I advised her that we were in a bank and that she had to stop screaming about a gun. She immediately raised her voice (became louder) and began to repeatedly scream ‘gun, gun, gun …’ over and over.”
Police arrested Stephens for disorderly conduct.
According to the lawsuit, Stephens was later “dragged out of the police car, thrown onto the pavement, and placed into a 4 x 6-foot holding room,” and after being transported to the sheriff’s department, she was “picked up by four male officers, dragged across the floor, and thrown face-first into a police car as if she was a rag doll.” Stephens’ nose was allegedly fractured during this process, and she was allegedly stripped down and made to sleep “completely nude on a cement floor of a jail annex cell” before being released the next day.
On the day after her release from jail, according to the lawsuit, a MidFlorida regional manager met Stephens at her home. She said the credit union handled the situation incorrectly and apologized for the incident before giving her a $300 voucher toward her mortgage payment.
“We’re sorry for any wrongful treatment that Ms. Stephens may have encountered while in police custody. 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,” a MidFlorida representative said in a prepared statement to Credit Union Times.” MidFlorida Credit Union is proud of our culture of inclusivity and equality as well as the high level of service we provide to all our members.”
MidFlorida and Crump have not returned requests for further comment by press time.