Gay Couple Banned From Wal Mart in Niles


Gosh, I started boycotting that store 3 years ago after watching THE HIGH COST OF THE LOW PRICE

The two Bic multipurpose lighters and a package of smaller lighters Joe Paolucci bought at the Niles (MI) Wal-Mart on Aug. 16 cost $15.84.

So how did the lighters end up the centerpiece of a situation that resulted in Paolucci and his gay partner, Thomas Hitchcock, being banned from Wal-Mart, not only in Niles but everywhere? That’s the rest of the story.

Tribune reporter staff writer Lou Mumford reported, Paolucci said he and Hitchcock had visited the store often since the two Chicago attorneys — for 13 years, Paolucci was general counsel for the real estate investment company owned by Chicago billionaire Sam Zell — opened a store known simply as Front in downtown Buchanan.

The “high-end modernist gallery/shop,” as Paolucci described it, stemmed from an extensive rehabilitation project. He and Hitchcock own investment properties in downtown Buchanan as well, they said, plus a second home near Buchanan that they occupy with two special-needs 11-year-old twin sons they adopted from Romania.

At the Wal Mart store, Paolucci, went to a self-checkout lane to use scanning equipment he had operated before.

Later, he said, he returned to the shopping area to pick up additional items, including the lighters, which he scanned and placed in bags. He grabbed his receipt for the items, totaling some $60, and headed for the exit, as did Hitchcock and the boys.

Before they got outside, store employees stopped them.

“They asked if I had Bic lighters. I said, ‘Yes,’ and handed them over,” Paolucci said. “Then they asked if I had a receipt. I said, ‘Yes, you’re holding it.’ Then this group of Wal-Mart employees started forming around us.”

Paolucci and Hitchcock said the employees were threatening and that one used a vulgarity. Their accusations frightened the boys, who began “crying, screaming and freaking out,” they said.

Paolucci said that while he and Hitchcock were attempting to calm down the boys, the employees ordered them to enter a “detention room” for questioning. Fearful of what might happen behind closed doors, he and Hitchcock refused to enter and asked to speak to a manager.

“Some guy came up and said, ‘I’m the manager,’ then turned around and left,” Hitchcock said.

Paolucci said he and Hitchcock then asked store personnel to call police. Within minutes, deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department’s Niles Township Patrol arrived, pleasing Paolucci who said he thought a few questions and a review of the store’s videotapes and computer records would quickly resolve the matter.

He said he was shocked when he was immediately handcuffed, without a question being asked, and placed in the back seat of a squad car. Hitchcock wasn’t handcuffed but also was placed in the back seat of a second squad car.

The twins, despite the protests of Paolucci and Hitchcock, were turned over to the store’s security personnel, who took them into the “detention room” or what police referred to as a security room.

Paolucci and Hitchcock estimated it was at least 45 minutes before officers told them they had reviewed the store’s tapes and had determined that the lighters hadn’t been shoplifted. The two said they expected an apology and were surprised once again when personnel from the store walked up to the squad cars with the twins and read from a statement that Paolucci and Hitchcock had been banned by the store chain for life. Rather than shoplifting, the reason they were given was “being uncooperative.”

“Everything they asked us to do, we did. We cooperated 100 percent,” Paolucci argued. “We objected only when they tried to get us to go into the detention room.”

By the time they were read the statement, Paolucci and Hitchcock said, the twins had told them that the security staff had allegedly threatened them in the security room and had made disparaging remarks about Paolucci and Hitchcock’s lifestyle. Paolucci and Hitchcock said they asked police to take statements from the boys but the officers refused, telling the couple they’d have to contact Child Protective Services.

They were told next that they’d have to leave the premises immediately, they said, or be arrested for trespassing. The men said they argued the store should at least replace such grocery items as a frozen pizza, ice cream and popsicles, which by then had thawed or melted, but those arguments, too, went nowhere.

WHAT  A  MESS!  I would not step  foot in a Wal mart store if YOU PAID ME!

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