Six members of a family were arrested at The Mall at Wellington Green in an incident that began last week benignly enough over a pair of droopy jeans but ended like a chaotic scene out of the Cops television show.
An estimated 20 deputies, two canine units and a police helicopter swarmed the area surrounding the mall’s food court, shutting down roads, all to arrest a 52-year-old man, his 50-year-old wife and four other relatives, ages 16 to 20, Thursday evening.
For the Leger family, a Haitian family which has lived in Wellington since 1992, though, this is no laughing matter. They say sheriff’s deputies overreacted with not just their numbers but also with sheer force.
That isn’t so, deputies say. The family attempted to stop deputies from arresting a relative, which led to the situation spiraling out of control.
The fracas began around 7 p.m. Thursday when deputies arrested Frantz Leger, the Legers’ 20-year-old son. He had returned to the mall where he was banned for violating its “Rules of Common Courtesy” in or around August. The Florida State University sophomore business major was verboten for wearing his pants too low.
His return to the mall was a violation of that trespass warning, deputies later charged.
“The mall doesn’t put up with that tomfoolery bullcrap,” Hart said [Palm Beach County sheriff’s Lt. Jay Hart] said. “His pants were down below his butt. No one goes to the mall and wants to see the crack of someone’s butt.”
Marthe Leger was arrested in 1994 on larceny and robbery charges, and Alain Oidge was arrested in October on charges of fraud, driving while his license was suspended and resisting an officer without violence.
The Legers say their Haitian heritage and treatment at the mall are not coincidental. “We feel like we’ve been prejudiced,” Marthe said. “They treat us like a second-class citizen.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Richter, Wellington’s senior law enforcement officer, countered: “The family got involved and tried to intervene and tried to resist the officers and that’s why they were subsequently arrested. It had nothing to do with the color of their skin. It had to do with their actions.”