By Curtis Skinner
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York state attorney general is investigating Macy's Inc (NYS:M) and Barneys New York Inc (DBWLDB.UL) after complaints from black customers who were stopped by police after making luxury purchases, a spokesman said Tuesday morning.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has set Friday as the deadline for the stores to turn over information about their policies for detaining and questioning customers based on race, according to letters sent to Barneys Chief Executive Mark Lee and Macy's Chief Stores Officer Peter Sachse.
Lee is meeting on Tuesday with Reverend Al Sharpton at the Harlem headquarters of his civil rights group, National Action Network, to discuss claims of racial profiling by two Barneys customers.
"Attorney General Schneiderman is committed to ensuring that all New York residents are afforded equal protection under the law," Kristen Clarke, who heads the attorney general's civil rights bureau, wrote to Lee and Sachse in letters released on Tuesday.
"The alleged repeated behaviour of your employees raises troubling questions about your company's commitment to that ideal," according to the letters.
The Schneiderman probe was first reported by the New York Daily News. Macy's and Barneys officials were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday morning.
Barneys and the New York City Police Department were named in a lawsuit filed by Trayon Christian of Queens. The lawsuit said police had detained him in April for two hours after he bought a $349 Ferragamo belt, and they then released him without charging him.
Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old nursing school student, said she was surrounded by four undercover police officers in February after leaving Barneys with a $2,500 Celine handbag she had purchased.
Two Macy's shoppers have made similar complaints, including actor Rob Brown of HBO's "Treme," who said he was handcuffed and held for an hour after purchasing a $1,350 gold Movado watch for his mother, the Daily News said.
The fourth "shop and frisk" complaint was filed by Art Palmer, 56, an exercise trainer from Brooklyn. He told the Daily News that he was surrounded by police who demanded to see identification in April after he used his credit card to buy $320 worth of Polo shirts and ties.
New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board is investigating allegations of improper police stops of Palmer and Phillips, spokeswoman Linda Sachs said on Tuesday.
In 2005, Macy's paid $600,000 to settle similar allegations that many of the chain's New York stores had targeted blacks and Latinos for particular scrutiny of theft, according to the New York Attorney General's office.
Crime statistics from the New York Police Department show grand larceny has risen 31.6 percent over the past two years in the Midtown North precinct, which includes Macy's flagship store in Herald Square, and is up nearly 4 percent in the Upper East Side's 19th precinct, which includes Barneys New York.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Chris Francescani; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn)