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Guard Says He Lost Job in T-shirt Flap
Published on Saturday, March 8, 2003 by the Times-Union (Albany, NY)
Guard Says He Lost Job in T-shirt Flap
by Bruce Scruton
 

The security officer at Crossgates Mall who signed a trespassing complaint against a war protester was fired Friday.


Roger and Stephen Downs had these shirts made at Crossgates Mall, but Stephen Downs was arrested when he refused to take his off and leave the mall.

Robert Williams said he was called into the mall security office about four hours into his shift and told he was fired because of Monday's incident and for signing the complaint against Steve Downs, 60, of Selkirk.

Downs' arrest brought Crossgates national notoriety and sparked a protest march against the facility's policies. He was arrested for trespassing when mall officials told him to leave or remove an anti-war T-shirt he had purchased there.

On Wednesday, amid a protest over Downs' arrest, officials from Pyramid Management Group, which operates the mall, said they would drop the charge against Downs.

Williams, who has worked in security at the mall for more than nine years, said he signed the complaint on the orders of his boss, assistant director of security Fred Tallman. Those orders came after Tallman told the Guilderland police officer working the case that he (Tallman) was too busy to come to the police station and that Williams represented the company and should sign.

"I just followed directions of management of that mall to the letter," Williams said Friday evening. "And I get fired for doing my job."

Mall officials did not return phone calls Friday evening seeking comment. Guilderland Police Chief James Murley also did not respond to a request for comment.

Williams said it was Tallman who made the decision on Monday to have Downs arrested if he and his son, Roger Downs, 31, refused to take off T-shirts that bore peace slogans.

Williams said security had received a call from Macy's security that there had been a confrontation with two men wearing anti-war T-shirts. Williams said he spotted the men near the food court and that about the same time, a Guilderland police officer showed up. "We had not called them (town police), but the two of us talked to them," he said.


Karen White and her daughter, Lillian, 8, sit in the food court of Crossgates Mall on Wednesday, March 5, 2003, in Guilderland, N.Y., along with others wearing T-shirts protesting war. They were protesting the Monday arrest of Stephen Downs, 61, on a trespassing charge after he wore a shirt made in a mall store that said 'Give Peace a Chance'. (AP Photo/Jim McKnight)
Over a period of time, it became clear, Williams said, that the elder Downs was not going to take off the T-shirt or leave the mall. Williams said he received orders over the mall's radio that if they refused, they were to be charged with trespassing.

When Steve Downs was taken to the police substation in the mall, the paperwork was written up. Tallman was contacted by the officer, Williams said, and told the officer to have Williams sign the complaint because "he represents the company so he can sign."

News of the arrest sparked a protest Wednesday by anti-war demonstrators, most of whom wore T-shirts. Mall officials did not meet with the protesters but announced later that day that they would drop charges against Downs.

Williams has been honored by the town for his service at the mall and on two occasions, after leaving for other work that fell through, the mall rehired him for security posts.

"My work record speaks for itself," Williams said in his own defense. "And I've already been told they're not going to pay unemployment so I shouldn't even file."

He said that after he was fired, he was handed paperwork, known as "write-ups," to sign, but he refused. The write-ups were in relation to Monday's incident.

Williams said he had been verbally reprimanded this week over a Saturday incident in which he tried keep out a man who previously had been banned from the mall. He said there also was a court order banning him from the mall.

But Williams was told to let the man in because he had been hired as a maintenance worker. "Because of that, I was just going to follow orders," he said about the Monday arrest.

"I guess that when it comes down to it," he added, "It's the people who sign the paperwork who get the blame, not the people who told you to do it."

Copyright 2003 Times-Union

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