Linda Brown was arrested Tuesday after an hours-long shopping spree that began when she hired a stretch Hummer limousine to drop her off at a Burlington Coat Factory store, police Sgt. Lt. Michael Deakins said. Brown walked to a cash register and loudly announced she had won the lottery and would pay for each person’s merchandise up to $500, he said.
People flooded the registers as cashiers began ringing up purchase after purchase, but Brown had not yet paid the bill, Deakins said. At least 500 people filled the aisles and another 1,000 were outside trying to get in, he said.
“She was telling people she won $1.5 million,” Deakins said. “But it ends up she didn’t win anything. She had no money to pay for anything.”
About an hour later, Brown had the limousine driver take her to a bank to withdraw money, but she returned empty-handed, police Detective Steven Nace said. By then, store employees had called in two dozen police officers to handle the crowds.
Shopper Candace Jordan said she told Brown she didn’t need clothes, she needed help paying her rent.
“And she said, ‘How much is it?'” Jordan told WBNS-TV. “And she promptly wrote out a check.”
By the time employees realized Brown didn’t have any cash to pay, police said, she already had taken off in the limo.
That’s when angry customers, realizing they weren’t getting free coats, began throwing merchandise on the floor and grabbing clothes without paying for them, Nace said.
“Everybody was like, ‘I still want my free stuff,’ and that started the riot,” he said. “It looks like (Hurricane) Katrina went through the store.”
Police said they have no way of tracking down the customers who stole items and fled, but they’re reviewing surveillance video.
When the limousine driver realized he wasn’t going to be paid the $900 Brown owed him for the day’s rental, he turned her in to police, Deakins said.
Brown, 44, was arrested on three outstanding warrants for aggravated menacing, misuse of a 911 system and causing false alarms. She was jailed late Wednesday, but no charges had been filed against her related to the coat store chaos pending a mental health evaluation.
[Editors Note: A video of this incident can viewed here, showing that the woman claiming to have won the lottery as well as most of the crowd were black. Not clear from the video, though, is that the riot broke out after it was clear that people were going to have to pay for their own clothing.]