The married couple mistakenly arrested in connection with the attempted armed robbery of an Oak Park U.S. Bank branch last year are suing the branch for $50,000 in compensation for damages incurred during the incident. The complaint states that the husband and wife were racially profiled by bank employees, who identified them as the perpetrators to Oak Park police.
“As a result of the callous, negligent actions and inactions of U.S. BANK, the Plaintiffs suffered fear, pain, emotional distress, and monetary expense,” reads the complaint, filed June 15 with the Circuit Court of Cook County.
U.S. Bank categorically refuted the assertions made against them in the complaint, calling the accusations of racial bias false and unsubstantiated by facts.
“We empathize with the Dugars’ experience; however, the claims of mistreatment and racial bias by U.S. Bank are not supported by the facts,” said U.S. Bank spokesperson Lee Henderson.
“While we cannot comment on how law enforcement conducted its investigation of the attempted robbery, there is nothing to suggest that the information provided to them by witnesses at the scene was in any way racially motivated or discriminatory—to say otherwise is simply false.”
Henderson stated that the branch intends to vigorously defend the bank and its employees.
The attempted armed robbery occurred at 11:27 a.m., Feb. 26, 2020. Police reports state that a Black man entered the branch, located at 6011 W. North Ave., told employees he was armed and demanded money, then fled the scene emptyhanded. The reports described the offender as Black, between 30 and 40 years old and about 5-feet-5-inches tall.
On that same day, Ottis Dugar, 86, and his 67-year-old wife Demitri Dugar, who are both Black, visited the branch. Shortly after leaving, the Dugars were pulled over, handcuffed and detained for over 45 minutes by Oak Park police officers, who had guns drawn, according to the couple’s attorney Gregory Kulis. Wednesday Journal has requested the dashboard camera footage of the incident through the Freedom of Information Act.
“I can only believe that the real reason this occurred is because they are Black,” said Kulis, who called it a case of “banking while black.”
The complaint argues that U.S. Bank failed in its duty to treat customers fairly and not discriminate against them when bank personnel identified the Dugars, neither of whom matched the offender’s description, to the police.
“Defendant U.S. Bank breached said duty when its employee(s) provided false information to the police indicating that the Plaintiffs were the alleged attempted bank robbers simply because of the color of their skin,” the complaint reads.
Kulis told Wednesday Journal that he, on behalf of his clients, had reached out to the branch “some months ago” to seek resolution but U.S. Bank remained uninterested.
“U.S. Bank basically ignored anything that we have sent out,” said Kulis. “They have not given an explanation as to how and why they would think their regular customers at this branch was involved in a bank robbery.”
He has also reached out to the village of Oak Park in the hopes of resolving the matter. The village board has recently committed to pursuing a number of goals related to racial equity and increasing community safety through police reform.
The Dugars, according to Kulis, have always been friendly with bank employees, going to the branch regularly for their financial transactions. Kulis believes Demitri Dugar even spoke to the bank security guard during their Feb. 24 visit.
Stress felt by the Dugars during their 45-minute detainment has exacerbated the couple’s health issues, according to Kulis.
Ottis Dugar is partially blind and a veteran of the armed forces. He told Kulis that it was the first time a gun had been pointed at him since he was in the service well over 60 years ago.
“Mr. Dugar’s blood pressure skyrocketed after this,” Kulis said.
Demitri Dugar, who is reportedly diabetic, experienced pain in her knees due to the way she was positioned into the police vehicle while being detained, according to Kulis, who stated that the situation could have resulted in far worse as both of his clients feared for their lives.
“Unfortunately, we see in America a lot of things happen to Black individuals when they are exiting a vehicle,” said Kulis. “They could have been shot.”