Three weeks into his new job, Paul McCowns was ready to cash his first paycheck.
There were no issues when he first entered a Huntington Bank branch in Brooklyn, Ohio, on Dec. 1. The bank asked for two forms of ID, which McCowns provided, he told Cleveland 19 News. An employee then asked for a fingerprint, which is standard procedure for non-Huntington customers attempting to cash checks, according to the bank.
But soon, bank employees began to question the legitimacy of his check, which was worth just over $1,000, said McCowns, who is African American. They called his employer, an electric company, numerous times to confirm, but his employer did not answer. The bank turned him away, he said.
Moments later, he was handcuffed and put into the back of a police cruiser.
“I get in my truck, and the squad car [pulls] in front of me, and he says, ‘Get out the car,’ ” McCowns, 30, told Cleveland 19 News. An employee had called Brooklyn police, who detained McCowns until they verified with his employer that the check was real.
McCowns said his employer told police: " 'Yes, he works for me, he just started, and yes, my payroll company does pay him that much.’ ”
In a 911 call, an employee at the bank is heard telling an operator that McCowns had tried to cash a fraudulent check.
“Does he know you called 911?” the operator asks.
“No,” the employee responds.
Brooklyn Police Chief Scott Mielke said Tuesday that since July, there have been at least 10 calls out to the Huntington Bank branch where McCowns was detained — all of which have resulted in arrests for fraudulent checks.
A spokesman from Huntington Bank confirmed Mielke’s account, adding that recent incidents have put employees and tellers at the branch on high alert. The spokesman said they have attempted to reach McCowns multiple times to apologize but that he hasn’t returned their calls. They issued the following statement:
“We sincerely apologize to Mr. McCowns for this extremely unfortunate event. We accept responsibility for contacting the police as well as our own interactions with Mr. McCowns. Anyone who walks into a Huntington branch should feel welcomed. Regrettably, that did not occur in this instance and we are very sorry. We hold ourselves accountable to the highest ethical standards in how we operate, hire and train colleagues, and interact with the communities we have the privilege of serving.”
McCowns did not return a message requesting comment Tuesday afternoon. He told Cleveland 19 News that he had no trouble cashing it at another Huntington branch the next day.
“The person who made that phone call — that manager, that teller — whoever made that phone call, I feel as though they were judging,” McCowns said. He added that the bank should change its policies for people who aren’t account holders.