Blind Man Forced To Leave NC Mall Because Of Guide Dog: Pursuit
Wilmer Oliva was reportedly asked to leave the same store in a North Carolina mall twice in the span of a month because of a dog named Forte.
Oliva is blind and Forte is her guide dog.
The couple voluntarily left after the first incident, according to Federal Court documents. But Oliva decided to hold on tight when it happened again, prompting mall security and the local police department to get involved. Oliva said the police eventually forced him and his dog to leave the store for “trespassing”.
Today, the city is accused of violating federal anti-discrimination laws that protect people with disabilities.
Disability Rights North Carolina on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Oliva against the town of Winston-Salem, claiming that the officers’ actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I just want to make sure that no one with a service animal endure what i did that day“Oliva said in a press release announcing the trial.” No person with a disability should be treated so brutally. We have a right to be in this world, just like everyone else. Sometimes we just need to. ‘help, as I do with Forte.
The city did not respond to the complaint, and representatives from the city’s attorney general’s office and the police department did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Friday.
According to court documents, Oliva’s altercation with the police took place at the Hanes shopping center in Winston-Salem.
The mall is houses more than 200 stores and is the largest enclosed mall between Atlanta and Washington, DC, according to CBL Properties, the real estate group that owns it.
In October, Oliva was shopping with Forte at Jimmy Jazz – a clothing and shoe store on the first floor – when the manager asked him to leave, Disability Rights NC said. After she left, Oliva filed a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the North Carolina Department of Justice.
Jimmy Jazz reportedly told Oliva in response that he was welcome to return to the store with Forte and that he “would post a sign in the window welcoming the inclusion of service animals,” the complaint states.
But when Oliva returned to Jimmy Jazz on Black Friday, the store manager told her to leave – “this time because Forte was not wearing a vest indicating she is a service animal,” Disability Rights NC said. .
Forte instead wore a harness with a handle that read “The Seeing Eye”.
Despite Oliva’s protests that service animal laws do not require animals to wear vests, her lawyers said, the manager called Hanes Mall Security and the Winston-Salem Police Department.
Two security guards arrived first, and Oliva then reportedly gave out “service animal information material” to help explain the situation. They agreed that he and Forte were allowed to be in the store – until the police showed up.
According to the complaint, one of the agents “immediately turned to the store manager and asked her if she wanted Mr. Oliva to leave the store”. When the director said yes, the officer allegedly demanded that he leave.
The officer then asked the security guards if they wanted Oliva removed from the mall, to which the guards said no. Oliva also tried to give officers the same briefing material he gave to the guards, Disability Rights NC said.
“One of the WSPD officers told Mr Oliva that he and his partner were not interested in service animals and service animal information,” the complaint states. “The police were only interested in the store’s right to remove whoever they want for any reason, because the store is privately owned.
Oliva and Forte left Jimmy Jazz after the cop gave him an ultimatum – walk out of the store alone or handcuffed.
Officers then wrote him a trespass warning and ordered him not to return to the store, according to the lawsuit.
Disability Rights NC contacted authorities in Winston-Salem in January to ask them to remove the trespass warning, the complaint said. But the city has reportedly denied any wrongdoing.
“Civil rights are severely weakened when law enforcement treats blind shoppers as intruders based on a store’s discriminatory desire to have them removed for using a guide dog,” said Chris Hodgson of Disability Rights NC , adding: “The WSPD should have known better than forcibly threatening to arrest a blind client for simply using his guide dog, as they did with Mr. Oliva.
The lawsuit calls for a declaration that the city violated federal disability laws as well as damages for Oliva.