Michigan bank calls police on black customer trying to deposit settlement check from a racial discrimination lawsuit

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A black Air Force veteran is accusing a Detroit-area bank of refusing to deposit money he was awarded in a racial discrimination lawsuit against his employer and calling the police because of his race.

Sauntore Thomas, 44, said he went to the TCF Bank in Livonia, Michigan, to deposit $99,000, when bank employees said they were having issues verifying his checks, Fox News affiliate WJBK-TV reported. Thomas received the money as the result of a lawsuit against his employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit, who he accused of racial bias.

“This was not a mistake, this was the bank assuming, making their own assumptions of what it is, and what it’s not,” Thomas said Thursday.


Sauntore Thomas poses in his attorney’s office on Thursday in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Thomas, a black Air Force veteran who tried to deposit settlement checks from a discrimination lawsuit was rejected by his suburban Detroit bank, which suspected fraud and called police. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

The checks didn’t appear to be legitimate when bank staff scanned them, TCF spokesman Tom Wennerberg said. He noted that Thomas has a 52-cent account balance at the time and had no recent back activity.

Thomas’ attorney, Deborah Gordon, said the checks “couldn’t have been more solid.”

“I mean, it’s a ridiculous joke that some nationwide company is going to be handing out fraudulent checks to me, that I’m going them pass on to my client,” she said. “So obviously, they didn’t believe my client. It’s obvious.”

Wennerberg said bank employees should have accepted the checks and told Thomas there could be a hold on the funds until they could be validated.

Four police officers responded to the incident but took no action against Thomas.

“I didn’t start cussing and hollering. I didn’t say anything,” he said. “I was very composed, even though it was a very stressful situation to be in, especially in today’s racial times,” Thomas said. “With being African-American, sometimes you don’t have to do nothing to be in trouble. And that’s what I felt like.”

Sauntore Thomas, right, and his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, left, talk Thursday in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

Sauntore Thomas, right, and his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, left, talk Thursday in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

TCF apologized for the incident in a statement.


“We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banking center, the statement read. “Local police should not have been involved. We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind. We take extra precautions involving large deposits and requests for cash and in this case, we were unable to validate the checks presented by Mr. Thomas and regret we could not meet his needs.”

Thomas took the checks to a Chase Bank branch and opened a new account, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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