Back in February, Robert Robedeaux, Pawnee, Ponca, Otoe nations, was shopping at a Hibbett Sports store in Owasso, Oklahoma. While in the store, he was trying on clothes and sending photos to his wife. During his time in the store, an employee called 911 and stated Robedeaux was making them uncomfortable. On the call, the employee says Robedeaux asked if the female employee was working alone, and stated his hair had ‘weird dreads or something.’
When Robedeaux walked out of the dressing room, he was met by three police officers and asked to leave. He filmed himself being escorted off the property by the officers.
While recording the incident, Robedeaux stood outside the door and described what was transpiring. Robedeaux was told he was being issued a trespass order not to return to the store. He was also later arrested on an unpaid parking violation warrant.
In an interview with Indian Country Today, Robedeaux said he was wrongfully removed from the Hibbett Sports store and the staff’s actions were racially motivated.
“I guess there was just a fear inside this person that made them afraid of my ethnicity. I went into the dressing room and when I walked out there were three cops just standing there. The store clerk came up and grabbed the clothing out of my hands and I looked around and I said is there something suspicious or illegal about trying on clothes?”
“It hurt my spirit. I forget that I'm a minority but they reminded me of it,” said Robedeaux.
Exclusive ICT video including the 911 call and Owasso Police bodycam footage
According to Robedeaux, the employee’s reason for calling on Robedeaux has changed, and included him asking if the employee was alone and going behind the counter to forcibly take the dressing room key, a claim that Robedeaux denies.
“The lady has changed her story four times. First she said I took the key behind the counter, so I could let myself into the dressing room. I said absolutely not. I said, let's look at the video that will show the truth.”
Brett Chapman, Ponca, a Tulsa attorney representing Robedeaux, told Indian Country Today that Robedeaux never asked if the employee was alone. He says Robedeaux asked standard questions about clothing and even asked if she could take a photo of the clothing he had tried with his phone, so he could send it to his wife.
Chapman had also told Tulsa World the matter was similar to the Starbucks incident. “It’s very similar to the Starbucks matter where you have an employee that’s just stereotypically calling the police to remove a patron that she doesn’t want there – a patron of color, and his hair was in the tradition native American style of his tribe.”
Robedeaux says that for months he had tried to contact the Hibbett Sports corporate office but kept getting shunned. He wanted to explain the employee that called was not being truthful.
Robedeaux’s wife, Sarah Knife Chief told Indian Country Today the entire incident has been troubling in a number of ways. She was worried because he was sending her funny pictures at one moment, then let her know police were at the store.
After a length of time, Knife Chief discovered her husband had been arrested and released, and had been told he could never return to a Hibbett store.
“I called to ask what happened from the manager and they couldn't give me any details. My father and I are physicians in the community, I told her, ‘if you think this is just going to go away it's not going to go away.’”
Knife Chief says he and her husband tried for months to get a solution from the corporate office. “We called twice a week every week for a couple of months. That's why I eventually put it on Twitter. I was so offended.”
Knife Chief posted the video on Twitter and Robedeaux posted it to his Facebook page. Knife Chief’s sharing of Robedeaux’s video has been retweeted over 1,100 times and viewed almost 54,000 times.After posting the video, Robedeaux says he was contacted by the Hibbett Sports corporate office. “Within 24 hours of my wife posting this to Twitter, the District Vice President of Hibbett Sports in Oklahoma called me. He said, ‘this recently came across my desk,’ even though I had been calling them for 2 months. He said, 'Well what do you want?'“He called the next day and said they were going to keep everything internal and he couldn't discuss anything which I understood, its policy. He also said I was free to go into the store anytime. I never got an apology and the police are the ones that have the ticket now.”Robedeaux says he is concerned that even though Hibbett Sports says he can go into a store, if someone were to call on him, the police would have a prior record of trespass. “It worries me because if some other person said I'm trespassing the police will have a record that I've done it before.”A Hibbett Sports spokesperson returned a statement to Indian Country Today."As a matter of policy, we don't comment on specific customer matters or pending litigation. For more than 70 years, Hibbett has been dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming environment to both customers and employees. Diversity and inclusion are embedded in our core values and we strive to provide excellent service to all customers, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, citizenship status, military or veteran status, marital status, age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other status protected by federal, state or local law."In an initial statement made to Tulsa World, Owasso Deputy Chief of Police Jason Woodruff responded that“Officers routinely stop by businesses, especially after dark, to check on employees’ wellbeing,” Woodruff said in a statement, “When resources allow, they are encouraged to patrol in high retail theft areas as a deterrent to potential lawbreakers.”In an emailed statement and open public record from Deputy Chief of Police Jason B. Woodruff to Tulsa World, “it is commonplace for officers to perform security checks” like the one that occurred at Hibbett.Woodruff issued a statement in his email about the incident as follows:“On February 11, 2018, at 7:22 pm, Owasso Police Dispatch received a call from an employee at Hibbett Sports about a man behaving suspiciously inside the store. The man allegedly asked the female employee if she was alone inside the store before taking a large amount of merchandise into the changing room. Indeed being the only employee inside the store at the time; the employee felt uneasy about the man’s questions and asked if an officer could stop by for a security check just to be safe.”“Officers responded to the store and spoke with the employee about her safety concerns. With no confirmed crime taking place, the officers chose not to make contact with the reported suspicious person but did remain In the area to ease the employee's safety concerns.” “Upon exiting the charging room and seeing the officers, the man became upset and began yelling, stating that he hadn't done anything wrong and demanding to know why the officers were there. An officer attempted to explain that they were simply performing a security check of the business, but the man become increasingly agitated, resulting in the employee asking him to leave the store because he was creating a disturbance. The man exited the store; but remained just outside the door yelling back at the employee /officers inside.”Since the accident has happened, Robedeaux has since cut in hair in what he calls respectfully mourning the event. He says he is upset since he has been a person that traveled to Standing Rock in support of the NoDAPL protests. He told Indian Country Today, the Hibbett Sports store has been an issue for other Native people and that some employees are racially motivated. In support of Robedeaux’s claims are a plethora of raced-based complaints on a website that posts Hibbett’s corporate information and is open for comments.Robedeaux says the entire thing has brought up a lot of issues related to his heritage.“I was told straight out by one of the Hibbett store employees that they were going to stop holding the N7 line of clothing because they didn't want Natives there.”“When I was a kid in school I told my teacher I wanted to play the prince in the school play. The teacher said I couldn't play the prince because I was brown. A lot of people tell me I don't look Indian. But I has been in Standing Rock. So all said, Yes, I've been called the prairie n-word, savage, you name it.”“I hope this sets a precedent for everyone to make this known, because Native people have been so quiet for so long,” said Robedeaux.Robedeaux’s attorney Brett Chapman says, “I believe my client and believe that he is truthful and that this is a story that needs to be told fully.”Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on TwitterFollow @VinceSchilling