By Christina Carrega
A Green Acres Mall security guard is under fire after he called the police — under false pretenses — to report a disabled Brooklyn man who was window shopping while waiting for a wheelchair-accessible ride to the doctor.
Ramon Lopez, 43, suffered a serious spinal injury while shoveling snow that left him permanently disabled three years ago . The Cypress Hills resident and father of two often travels more than 21 miles to Westbury, Long Island to see the doctor. He hopes to eventual have surgery that will allow him to consistently walk again.
In order to get to the doctor, Lopez takes an Access-A-Ride to the border of Queens, where he is dropped off at the entrance of the J.C. Penney at the Green Acres Mall on Sunrise Highway. He then waits about an hour for an Able-Ride driver to take him the rest of the way. Access-a-Ride, which is operated by the MTA, does not drive outside the five boroughs beyond a three-quarter-of-a-mile radius in Nassau and Westchester Counties.
On Friday, Dec. 14, Lopez woke up at 6 a.m. to take the trip for a 10 a.m. appointment. The weather forecast called for a low of 15 degrees and a high of 28 degrees, so Lopez decided to go inside the mall at around 7 a.m. to wait for the next part of his journey.
“I pushed the help button to get help with the door. A person, who was inside already, helped me in. I proceeded inside to window shop and waited for the Starbucks to open at 8:30,” Lopez told the Eagle.
The public is allowed inside the mall starting as early as 6 a.m. — many people participate in an earlybird group known as the Mall Walkers program — but everyone has to sign in. After 7 a.m., visitors do not need to sign in, a mall employee who declined to be identified told the Eagle.
“I was in front of the GameStop and made note of what I liked to come back later after my appointment to purchase,” Lopez said. “A security guard came up to me and said, ‘I never seen you in here before, what are you doing here?’”
Lopez told the unidentified mall cop that he was killing time, getting exercise while window shopping with the other mall walkers before his Able-Ride was scheduled to pick him up around 8 a.m.
The security guard instructed Lopez to wait in an undesignated area for his ride. Since Lopez did not know where the guard was referring to, he decided to wait by the Starbucks.
“I felt someone looking at me, it was the same security guard. I see him watching me. We locked eyes and he approached me,” said Lopez. “I turned on my recording.”
“Sir, go to the waiting area,” the guard is heard saying on the video recording obtained by the Eagle.
The guard proceeded to tell Lopez to leave the building and go outside nto the cold even though there were other people casually walking around the mall, Lopez said.
“Once he saw I was recording, he called his supervisor. I continued to the record because he kept harassing me to leave, and I didn’t understand why,” said Lopez. “Is it because I’m in a wheelchair? Is it because of how I look or how I am dressed? Why am I a threat?”
“You know that it’s illegal for you to record in here. Stop filming. I did not give you consent to film. I’m calling the police right now,” the guard said in one of the two six-minute videos.
Two more guards, a man and a woman, showed up to the scene. One guard told Lopez that “it’s illegal to record on private property,” according to the tape.
The mall cop called the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) at 7:36 a.m. to report a disturbance at the Victoria’s Secret Pink Store. “The security of Green Acres Mall called because someone was recording in the lingerie store and was told not to, and the person wouldn’t stop,” a NCPD spokesman said.
None of the stores in the mall should have been open at the time, according to hours posted on the Green Acres Mall website.
“They told me that if I deleted the video I could stay,” said Lopez, who refused to erase the footage and proceeded to meet up with his driver, who arrived early.
Lopez told his driver about the ordeal. “My driver took me back into the mall to get me a cup of coffee, and then Nassau cops came and were yelling at me to leave the mall and threatened to take me to jail,” said Lopez.
Lopez also alerted Rev. Kevin McCall, the national crisis director of the National Action Network, about his treatment by the guards.
“Where is your morality that you would want to kick out a disabled man in the cold?” McCall asked. “Everyone should be treated equal and not be discriminated against because they are disabled. We are calling for an immediate investigation into what happened here.”
After the incident, Lopez proceeded on to his doctor’s appointment. On his way back home, instead of waiting another hour at the mall to connect to his Access-A-Ride, he paid $30 for an Uber, he said.
“I had to have strangers help me in the car with my wheelchair,” said Lopez.
Should Lopez decide to skip the MTA Access-a-Ride shuttle service to the Long Island paratransit service, the closest subway station to his home is the Van Siclen Avenue J train station. It is not handicap accessible.
“If I walk a block it would take an hour to get around the block, if you even want to call that walking,” Lopez said over a phone call with the Eagle.
Using its "Trip Planner" page, the MTA recommends that someone with disabilities travelling from Lopez's home to Westbury should walk to the Q24 bus stop and take that to Jamaica Avenue, where they can then take a Long Island Rail Road train to Westbury.
“They were mad I was recording. They need training on how to deal with people better. I don’t want anyone, especially anyone who has a disability, to be treated like this,” Lopez said.
A person who described himself as the supervisor of mall security hung up the phone on an Eagle reporter during two separate phone calls. During a third call, the spokesman said, “We are not giving out any information to the press about an incident on Dec. 14.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Sperling