Bank calls 911 on black man cashing check

A man who was trying to cash a check at a bank in Brooklyn, Ohio says the teller who called 911 was "judging" him.

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 4:23 PM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 4:56 PM

An African-American man who couldn't cash his paycheck at a Huntington bank in Brooklyn, Ohio, says the staff was "judging" him.

Paul McCowns, 30, told CNN affiliate WOIO he recently got a new job and was trying to cash his first paycheck earlier this month, but the tellers wouldn't cash the check, which was just over $1,000.

Although McCowns didn't specify he was being racially profiled, social media has picked up the hashtag #BankingWhileBlack upon hearing about the incident. The hashtag is very similar to those seen in the past, such as #BarbecuingWhileBlack, #BabysittingWhileBlack and #CampaigningWhileBlack, which were coined after a white person called the police on black people while they were seen doing day-to-day activities.

As he was leaving the bank emptyhanded, McCowns was met by Brooklyn Police, handcuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser. When McCowns asked what was happening, the officer said the bank's teller had called 911.

"I have a customer here -- he's not our customer, actually. He's trying to cash a check and the check is fraudulent. It does not match our records," a bank employee says on a recording of the 911 call obtained by CNN.

McCowns doesn't bank with Huntington and its staff was not able to reach his employer at first, but he followed bank protocol and provided the tellers with two forms of identification and a fingerprint. The bank still declined to cash his check.

"It was highly embarrassing, highly embarrassing," McCowns told WOIO. "The person who made that phone call — that manager, that teller — whoever made that phone call, I feel as though they were judging."

The Brooklyn Police Department said in a statement that McCowns was released once officers reached his employer and "confirmed with the account holder the check was valid."

"We were called to the bank on the report of a fraudulent check. We were given a description of the individual. When we arrived the male was leaving in his vehicle. He was not arrested but he was detained until our officers could figure out what was going on," Brooklyn Police Chief Scott Mielke said in a statement obtained by CNN.

According to the police statement, the bank branch has had more than 10 arrests for fraudulent checks since July 18, and a bank representative told WOIO that was why the tellers were being "hyper-vigilant."

The bank has released a statement apologizing to McCowns.

"We sincerely apologize to Mr. McCowns for this extremely unfortunate event. We accept responsibility for contacting the police as well as our own interactions with Mr. McCowns. Anyone who walks into a Huntington branch should feel welcomed. Regrettably, that did not occur in this instance and we are very sorry. We hold ourselves accountable to the highest ethical standards in how we operate, hire and train colleagues, and interact with the communities we have the privilege of serving," Huntington said.

McCowns later cashed his paycheck at a different Huntington branch, with no inconvenience, WOIO reported.

CNN has reached out to McCowns for further comment.

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