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ALLEGED BIAS INCIDENT AT WALDEN GALLERIA IS PROBED

The president of the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP said the civil rights organization is looking into a Feb. 3 incident at the Walden Galleria in which a witness says African-American teenagers were singled out for expulsion from the mall.

The organization wants to find out if the incident was spurred by vestiges from the high-profile Cynthia Wiggins case.

"We are fully cognizant of what happened to Cynthia Wiggins," Frank Mesiah said. "Are some of the vestiges still around? We don't know if they were eliminated or just suppressed."

Mia Shelton, 27, of Buffalo, told the NAACP that she watched about a half-dozen Walden Galleria security officers last Saturday night as they ordered African-American teenagers in the food court to leave the mall. She said there was a large crowd of teenagers in the area who were not eating, but the officers targeted only the African-American teenagers and bypassed the tables where white teenagers sat.

And when she asked the officers why the African-Americans were being singled out, she said the officers told her to mind her own business. Shelton said they then told her that she, her sister and her niece also had to leave the mall.

"One of the officers said to us: 'This is my mall, and I'm tired of inner-city people coming into our mall trespassing and loitering,' " Shelton said.

She said Cheektowaga Police Department officers assisted in the incident and told her and her party that they had to follow the security officers' directions because the mall is private property.

Jim Soos, mall general manager, said he couldn't comment on the incident in detail because he is still interviewing staff members to ascertain what took place that night. However, he did say that the mall does not discriminate among its patrons.

"We are not here to discriminate against anyone that comes to the center to shop or to socialize," he said. "However, we do have rules and regulations that must be followed."

He said some of the teenagers who frequent the mall on the weekends tend to congregate at certain areas and clog passageways. They are warned numerous times to disperse, and if they don't follow the rules, they are routinely asked to leave.

Mesiah said the NAACP is waiting on Soos' findings before deciding its next move. He added that Shelton's complaint was the only one the organization received about the incident, and if it has merit, he'll advertise in local papers for others to come forth.

"We just have one side of the story," he said. "We'll give Soos time to respond, and once he does, we'll decide what action we are going to take."

Wiggins was killed when she was hit by a dump truck in December 1995 after getting off a bus and trying to cross Walden Avenue to her job at Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga. In a wrongful-death lawsuit, attorneys for her estate claimed the bus was denied access to the mall to discourage inner-city residents from shopping there. The suit was settled for $2.55 million in November of 1999.

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