Student-athlete accuses guards of harassment

by Robert Koch

A University track and field student-athlete filed a lawsuit Wednesday against City Center, alleging four of its security guards assaulted her as she exited a restroom in the downtown Minneapolis shopping center on May 23.
Apasha Blocker, an African-American graduate student in applied kinesiology, alleges the mall security guards, who are white, assaulted her and used racial slurs, according to a federal civil complaint filed Wednesday.
Blocker is seeking more than $400,000 in damages.
Managers of the shopping mall released a statement Wednesday, saying City Center “regrets the misunderstanding that may have caused this event,” and is conducting its own internal review of the event.
Blocker appeared Wednesday outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis, wrists bandaged and accompanied by her attorneys, Michael Mobley and George Phillips.
“We’re bringing this action to seek redress for her injuries in federal court under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Mobley said. “That part of the act governs public accommodations.”
Blocker was about to exit a third-level women’s restroom at 12:30 p.m. the day of the alleged assault when, according to the complaint, a white male security guard confronted her and asked, “Can you freakin’ read?”
The guard reportedly had received complaints about men being in the women’s restroom.
When Blocker moved past the guard, he allegedly kicked her, followed her down the corridor outside the restroom and searched her book bag.
Three other security guards, also white, soon surrounded Blocker, tearing tendons and ligaments as they bent her wrists, fingers and thumbs backward, according to the complaint.
“He grabbed my arm, and he twisted it, and he put the handcuffs on it,” Blocker said.
The guards allegedly struck Blocker in the ribs, choked her by her necklace, and told her she “was just like the other niggers,” as they led her to a lower-level office. There, they allegedly told her she was a trespasser and should not re-enter the facility for 90 days.
Mobley said two shoppers witnessed the incident. It might also have been captured on videotape.
“We have confirmed publicly that there are videotapes that covered this time period,” said Douglas Kline, representative for City Center. “We expect the review of these materials to support our position that there was no inappropriate actions by City Center safety personal.”
Shopping mall management said in its statement that City Center employs professional public safety officers who receive cultural diversity, sensitivity, customer service and life-safety training.
Blocker, who set pentathlon and heptathlon records during the 1996-97 season, reportedly had been training for the World Games and hoped to participate in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
“We do not know at the present time whether or not she will be able to participate any further in athletic events,” Mobley said.
Mobley said he has spoken with economists and total damages sought could reach $700,000.

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected].