Women arrested for kissing in mall
(Chron.com) SAN ANTONIO — Jessica Garcia intends to prove in court that security officers at Rolling Oaks Mall unfairly targeted her and her girlfriend when they were arrested in December on trespassing and other charges.
Garcia said the officers — a Bexar County sheriff’s deputy and an employee from a private security company — began harassing them Dec. 26 because her girlfriend gave her a kiss on the cheek while sitting inside the mall on a bench.
Mall officials said the women, both 22, were acting inappropriately and were told to leave because they were not complying with the shopping center’s code of conduct.
Danielle Pardue, the mall’s marketing director, denies the women’s claims of discrimination and said security officers would evict anyone found kissing in the mall, regardless of sexual orientation.
“If our security officer feels that is disruptive to our shoppers and our business, then they have that authority to make that determination,” she said. “It’s their responsibility to make sure our shopping place is an enjoyable shopping place for everyone to be.”
Pardue also stressed that contrary to what the women claim, they weren’t arrested because they were kissing, but because they re-entered the mall after being told to leave.
But Garcia feels otherwise.
She was scheduled to appear in court today, but her lawyer had to postpone the date for later this month.
Garcia said the officers intentionally harassed the couple, accusing them of kissing and having “swapped spit.”
Civil rights advocates expressed dismay over the mall’s policy against public displays of affection, such as kissing, and question the wide discretion officers have to enforce it.
“What if they’re holding hands, is that going to be enough?” asked Patrick Filyk, president of the San Antonio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Seems like a real slippery slope for management.”
J. Lynne Armstrong, co-chairwoman of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio and a clinical counselor, said such a policy raises troubling questions.
“It’s surprising to me that that would be a policy anywhere, because how can you enforce that, No. 1?” Armstrong asked. “Or, how can you dictate how people choose to be expressive with one another? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
Armstrong said her organization provides sensitivity training to the San Antonio Police Department regarding same-sex issues, and she offered to provide the same training to the mall’s security officers.
Garcia said that after her girlfriend gave her a kiss on the cheek, the officers approached them and warned them to stop.
“He said, ‘This is a family mall, y’all can’t do this,’” she said. “We said, ‘Do what?’ He said, ‘Y’all kissed, and if y’all do it again I’m going to write you a citation or I’m going to kick y’all out.’”
Garcia said she and her girlfriend were bothered by the officer’s comments and told him they weren’t kissing.
Pardue initially said it was the kissing that gained the officers’ attention, but she later clarified that the officers approached the women to tell them to sit properly on the bench.
She said one of the women was sitting on the other’s lap — a claim Garcia disputes. Garcia said her girlfriend had the lower portion of her leg around hers, from the knee down. She said neither was sitting on top of the other.
“They (the officers) passed people who were kissing and they didn’t tell them anything, but they came to us,” Garcia said. “We didn’t even kiss. All she did is she kissed me on my cheek. There’s no other way to explain it. They discriminated against us.”
Both Garcia and Pardue agree the incident escalated after that.
Pardue said the women complied briefly with the officer’s request, but once the officers began walking away, they continued to engage in an “activity that was not appropriate for the public.”
She said that at that point, the officers told the women to leave.
Garcia said she and her girlfriend walked out of the mall, but re-entered through another entrance in order to take a shortcut to their car, which was parked on the other side.
Pardue said that when security found the women back inside the mall, they were confronted about trespassing, and that’s when the women became disruptive and physical with the officers.
Garcia said she attempted to tell the officers she was merely trying to get to her car, but the officers kept harassing her and her girlfriend and the situation deteriorated.
In the end, she was charged with trespassing, resisting arrest and assault on a peace officer, while her girlfriend was charged with trespassing.
Pardue said the mall’s code of conduct is posted at all its entrances, stating disruptive or disorderly conduct isn’t tolerated. It says nothing about kissing, however.
Simon Property Group operates both Rolling Oaks Mall and Ingram Mall in San Antonio.
“Our mall is a commercial venue that provides a shopping experience with respect to all races, religions and orientations,” Pardue said. “We would have enforced the same policies had it been a heterosexual couple.”
Garcia said her girlfriend has suffered both physically and emotionally because of the arrest.
“This has never happened to us,” she said. “We haven’t been to the mall since then.”