By Alexis Garrett Stodghill
Ikenna Njoku of Auburn, WA tried to deposit a check for $8,463.21 at Chase Bank, and ended up spending five days in jail instead of getting his money. Even though the check was issued by Chase and had his correct name and address on it, the institution regarded Njoku as suspicious. Refusing to believe the document was authentic, the teller who received it reported him to the authorities based on her assumptions. Njoku recently recounted this humiliation to local news station King 5 News:
“I was embarrassed,” Njoku said. “She asked me what I did for a living. Asked me where I got the check from, looked me up and down—like ‘you just bought a house in Auburn, really?’ She didn’t believe that,” he said.
The Customer Banker said the check looked fake, so she took it, along with Njoku’s driver license and credit card, and called Bank Support.
After waiting for about 15 minutes, Njoku said he got impatient and told Chase he was leaving to do an important errand. By the time he got back, the bank was closed. Njoku said he called customer service and asked them what he should do. He says they told him to go back to the bank the next day to get his money
When Njoku returned the next day seeking his funds, Chase had the police waiting for him. “They just threw me in jail; they called the police and said this guy has a fraudulent check,” Njoku told King 5 News. He was charged with the felony crime of forgery on a Thursday, and left in jail overnight.
When Chase realized that the check was real the next day, an investigator from Bank Support called the detective on the case, but she had Friday off. The result? Njoku had to spend the weekend in jail. By the time he was released on Monday, he had been fired from his job for not showing up.
In addition, the check was taken into custody for evidence. Although it was returned two weeks later, by that time Njoku’s car had been repossessed and sold at auction because he needed that money to make car payments.
In response to pressure about his treatment, Chase has just sent a letter to Njoku apologizing for his ordeal over a year later. The car he lost was a prized possession, and Njoku was understandably depressed by the injustice of the incident, but there has been no attempt to compensate him for his financial losses or emotional duress.
Njoku is working with a lawyer now, and hopefully will recoup damages for what he experienced by trying to do business with Chase. It is clear that the teller saw him as a black man, not a customer, and was blinded by stereotypes from fulfilling his request. The racial profiling in this case is evident. Chase certainly has a PR nightmare on its hands.
Njoku’s judgement amount will probably be handsome. We know he will deposit that sum someplace else.