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February 17, 2012

Jury sides with retailer in ‘strip search’ case

Store denies 13-year-old girl told to take off clothes

JEFFERSONVILLE — Diana Fore, 19, was a middle school student when she and two friends were stopped on suspicion of shoplifting from J.C. Penney at the Greentree Mall in Clarksville.

The three girls were escorted by a loss prevention officer to a security room where store employees found stolen jewelry in a purse Fore had in her possession. Fore claims she was then taken to the restroom by a female store supervisor and ordered to strip down to her panties and bra — an allegation denied by the store employees.

Her father, Jesse Fore, filed a lawsuit on her behalf in May 2008 claiming J.C. Penney is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. The case went to trial Tuesday, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of J.C. Penney on Thursday and awarded no money to either side.

The incident happened May 20, 2006. Loss prevention officer Ed Snyder testified he saw three girls stealing jewelry and observed as they went into a fitting room. After they exited the room, he collected discarded price tags believed to be from stolen clothing and approached the girls.

Fore, 13 at the time, and her two friends, ages 12 and 13, were led back to the security office. Snyder asked for their contact information and began calling their parents. Prior to their parents’ arrival, at least some of the girls confessed to the shoplifting.

Linda Allen, a store supervisor, testified Fore lifted up a hooded sweatshirt in the security room and told them she was wearing a stolen shirt on top of another shirt. Each girl was then led individually by Allen to the restroom.

Fore denies lifting up her shirt and still maintains she did not have any stolen clothing. She alleges Allen stood in the restroom with her and ordered her to take off her jeans and three tops. She said Allen stared at her for several minutes, even staring at her breasts.

Fore also denies involvement in the shoplifting. She said the two other girls had her purse and loaded it with the jewelry.

Allen, a J.C. Penney employee for 25 years, said she has never been accused of anything inappropriate outside of this case.

“I find it completely disturbing and disgusting,” Allen said of the accusations. “I feel that has blemished my reputation.”

J.C. Penney’s policy forbids strip searches, and Allen said she never asked Fore to remove any clothing. She said they do not strip search anyone but give people the opportunity to return clothing.

Kristen Dennis, now 18, testified Wednesday she was one of the girls involved in the shoplifting. She went to Parkview Middle School with Fore and claims all three went to the mall with the intention of stealing that day.

Dennis said she told Snyder and Allen in the security room that she was wearing a pair of stolen panties. While she could not remember if Allen told her to take off any clothing after being led to the bathroom, Dennis said Allen turned the other direction and did nothing to make her feel uncomfortable as she removed the panties to return them.

Robert Rives, an attorney for the retailer, argued that Fore was so terrified of her father finding out that she had shoplifted that she made up the story to focus the attention on something else. Fore’s attorney, William Perry McCall, rejects that claim.

“She’s been adamant from the start that this happened to her. I truly believe it did happen to her,” McCall said. “At any point along the way, she could have decided not to go through with [the trial].”

McCall doubted statements by Allen that the girls were not even asked if they were wearing stolen clothing.

“The things J.C. Penney said occurred don’t make common sense,” McCall argued.

He said the original written statements by Snyder and Allen did not mention Fore lifting up her shirt. He said that was only included in statements written after the store was made aware of the allegations. Rives argued Fore was inconsistent in key parts of her testimony.

McCall said Fore hugged him and thanked him after the jury reached its decision. She told him, “Hopefully, one thing that comes out of this is that J.C. Penney will review how they handle this in the future, especially with young kids.”

McCall argued the store employees should have waited until the parents arrived since minors cannot give consent.

No criminal charges were filed against any of the girls since they were juveniles and the property worth about $311 was returned. There was never a criminal investigation or charges against any J.C. Penney employee.

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