A black teenager is shopping for justice — claiming snooty Barneys
staffers and New York City cops racially profiled him for credit card
fraud after he bought a $349 belt.
Trayon Christian, 19, told the Daily News he filed a lawsuit after he
was targeted by staffers at Barneys’ Madison Ave. flagship store and
detained by police because they didn’t believe a young black man could
possibly afford to buy such an expensive belt.
The fashion-forward teen, who lives with his mom in Corona, Queens, is
studying engineering at the New York City College of Technology, where
he had a work-study job.
Christian said his paycheck had just been direct deposited into his
Chase bank account, so he went straight to Barneys on the afternoon of
April 29 to buy the pricey Ferragamo belt with a silver buckle and a
reversible black and white strap.
“I knew exactly what I wanted,” Christian said. He’d seen the belt on a
lot of his favorite celebrities, including rapper Juelz Santana.
He said he’d browsed the ritzy rags at Barneys before but had never bought anything at the store.
“It was a quick trip. I gave them my debit card, I signed my name,” he said.
According to his lawsuit, the clerk asked Christian to show his ID, which he did.
“I showed my state ID,” he told The News.
Marcus Santos/New York Daily News
After buying a designer belt
at the flaship Barneys department store in New York, Trayon Christian
was detained and then arrested by undercover cops who the teen says told
him the card had to be fraudulent because he couldn't have afforded the
The clerk didn’t react as he signed for his purchase and left, he said.
But he got no more than a block from the store when two undercover NYPD
detectives stopped him near E. 60th St., the lawsuit said.
“They said my card wasn’t real, it was fake. They said someone at Barneys called to report it,” said Christian.
The male detectives — whose names he never learned — asked to see ID and look in his bag, he said.
They also asked him if he worked, and where.
“I showed them my school ID and my driver’s license,” said Christian, who was 18 when the incident allegedly occurred.
“I kept thinking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’” he said.
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“The detectives were asking me, ‘How could you afford a belt like this? Where did you get this money from?’” he said.
Pearl Gabel/New York Daily News
EXCLUSIVE PHOTO: Trayon
Christian is suing Barneys and the NYPD for racial profiling and false
arrest after the belt-buying incident that got him arrested and jailed
for a short time.
He was handcuffed and taken to the 19th Precinct stationhouse, he said.
According to his lawsuit, he was detained in a holding cell for about two hours.
He was then released with his debit card, his belt and an apology from the police, Christian said.
A spokeswoman for the NYPD denied Christian was detained for two hours,
saying he was brought into the precinct at 7:04 p.m. and was allowed to
leave at 7:45 p.m.
“Mr. Christian was held in police custody for approximately 42 minutes
and as soon as we determined that the card was authentic, he was
immediately released,” said Inspector Kim Royster.
He was never charged, according to his attorney.
“I was nervous the whole time, but not really scared because I knew I had done nothing wrong,” said the teen.
After he got home, he got angry.
“I brought the belt back to Barneys a few days later and returned it. I
got my money back, I’m not shopping there again,” he said. “It’s cruel.
The October 23, 2013 cover of the NY Daily News.
Calls to Barneys, which is led by CEO Mark Lee, were not returned.
The city Law Department said it hadn’t seen the court papers yet.
“We are awaiting a formal copy of the lawsuit and will review the
claims upon receipt,” said Elizabeth Thomas, a Law Department
The NYPD said it has gotten 53 grand larceny complaints this year for
credit card fraud at Barneys’ Madison Ave. store and has made more than
47 arrests. But it’s unclear how many of those arrested were actually
charged with a crime and how many were, like Christian, released.
Plainclothes officers visit Barneys periodically because of problems with fraudulent use of cards, the NYPD said.
Christian’s attorney Michael Palillo said the teen, who now works at Target, has a clean record.
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“He’s never been arrested. His only crime was being a young black guy buying a $300 belt,” the lawyer said.
The student’s Facebook page shows pictures of a fashion-loving teen. In
some, Christian is sporting various belts with buckles encrusted with
glittering “F’s” — but it’s not clear if they are also Ferragamo items.
The Salvatore Ferragamo belt at the center of Trayon Christian's lawsuit retails for $349.
He’s also seen posing for selfies in a series of baseball caps that
have been color-coded to match his clothes, with a gold chain and an
earring peeking out.
Christian’s mother, Selena Christian, said she was outraged at the upscale store’s treatment of her son.
“Barneys said his card was stolen, they said he shouldn’t have that
much money in his account,” said the 40-year-old school bus driver. “I
am shocked. He’s a good kid.”
The hardworking mother could find only one reason for her son to be singled out after he’d shown ID to the Barneys staffer.
“It’s because he’s an African-American,” she said. “It’s wrong. They shouldn’t have done this.”
Being publicly questioned, searched and handcuffed and then detained in
a police precinct cell caused Christian “great physical and mental
distress and humiliation,” the lawsuit said.
“His reputation and character were injured and he was embarrassed,” the court papers said.
The incident was due to the “negligence, careless[ness] and
recklessness of Barneys” and the undercover detectives, the lawsuit
Christian is suing the NYPD and Barneys for unspecified damages.
Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images
At center, Juelz Santana —
wearing a Ferragamo belt like the one Trayon Christian had coveted —
attended the 2 Chainz album release party at Amnesia NYC in 2012.
With Rich Schapiro
* * *
Off-the-rack Barneys facts:
* Founded in 1923 as a discount men's store by Barney Pressman.
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* Didn't introduce a women's department until 1976.
* Was originally Barney's Clothes, and then Barneys. The store lost its apostrophe in 1981.
* First store outside of New York was opened in Seattle in 1990.
Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg
Barneys CEO Mark Lee. Calls to the department store seeking comment were not immediately returned.
* The chain went bankrupt in 1996, and emerged from bankruptcy in January 1999.
* Had no CEO between 2008 and 2010, when it was run by a seven-member executive board.
* Its Madison Ave. flagship store is more than 250,000 square feet.
* The Pressman family sold the chain in 2004, and it has changed hands twice since then. It's now owned by Perry Capital.
* Lady Gaga designed some of the flagship store's holiday displays in
2011. Jay Z is teaming up with the store this year for a collection and
window display titled "New York Holiday."
* The store's 2012 "Electric Holiday" display caused a kerfuffle when
it featured rail thin model versions of Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck. The
store noted the lanky versions of the stout stars were featured in a
dream sequence, and that Minnie "happily awakens as her normal self."
* * *
Meet the boss:
* Barneys CEO Mark Lee, 50, is a San Francisco native.
* Moved to New York in 1980 as an acting student at New York University.
* First fashion gig was in 1984 as an assistant buyer for Saks Fifth
Avenue. Has since worked at Giorgio Armani, Yves St. Laurent and headed
Gucci before landing Barneys gig.
* Salary is reportedly seven figures, with equity in the company.
* Took over the then-struggling chain in 2010 and has made it
profitable once again, with a reported $800 million in sales in 2012.
* As CEO, has focused on streamlining the store's brand and making it higher-end.