by Charles Brownstein
Attacks against comics and the people who sell them are nothing new. They’ve been plaguing comics since the very beginning, whether it was massive public comic book burnings in the 1940s, Frederic Wertham’s attacks in the 1950s, or the retailer stings of the 1980s that led to CBLDF being formed. While we’ve seen this type of story arise time and again, it should never be taken lightly. Below, we offer some tips on how to deal with hostile circumstances if they occur in your store. By following these tips and maintaining an up-to-date knowledge of your product mix, an understanding of your community’s values, a responsible operating philosophy, and a calm, intelligent demeanor, you’ll be better able to weather whatever storm appears on your store’s front steps.
How to Handle a Police Visit
Police officers may enter your store to investigate a content complaint or other matter. These occasions are rare, but if this happens:
- Stay calm, be polite, and assert your rights.
- You should not consent to a search without a warrant.
- You have the right to remain silent.
- You have the right to have a lawyer present.
- Call CBLDF at the first sign of trouble: 1-888-88-CBLDF (22533).
How to Handle a Police Search
- Do not consent to any requests by the agents to search any part of the premises without a warrant.
- If the agents do have a warrant, you should cooperate and not attempt to interfere with or obstruct the agents executing the warrant.
- Contact your lawyer and CBLDF at 1-888-88-CBLDF (22533) as soon as possible.
- Identify the lead agent, and ask for credentials and contact information.
- Ask for a copy of the search warrant, and review it carefully.
- You have a right to record events with either video or still photography, but do not impede or interfere with police if you do so.
- Try to inventory seized property to mirror the agents’ inventory.
- Watch for whether agents are attempting to detain or interview employees.
- After the search is concluded, debrief anyone who interacted with agents.
- Advise employees of their rights as soon as possible, but do not impede the agents while doing so. Send all but essential employees home, leaving a responsible person in charge.
- Be alert for any attempt to remove or destroy documents, including off-site documents.
- Contact the assistant U.S. attorney (AUSA) or state prosecutor assigned to the case to arrange for the return of documents or copies, including imaged computers.
- If any documents are privileged (e.g., communications with your lawyer), inform the AUSA or agents of that fact.
- Be prepared for publicity.
- Consult legal counsel and commence an internal investigation as soon as possible.
How to Handle an Arrest
- You have the right to remain silent. Do not speak, attempt to persuade, or otherwise communicate in any way other than to get information (as described above).
- Always be polite, even if they’re not. Always treat police officers with polite, courteous respect, even if they are not doing the same. Talking back to the police can create additional complications for you in court.
- Don’t run. Under the extreme duress of this kind of situation, people can act on a flight-or-fight response. Do neither! Running can be perceived as resisting arrest and may bring additional charges.
- Don’t resist arrest. Don’t make any motions or actions that can be perceived as resisting arrest. This is a serious matter and could bring additional charges.
- Don’t consent to a search. Arrests are possible even before a search warrant has been granted. Do not consent to a search of your workplace, vehicle, or home without a warrant. Don’t consent to searches of phones, computers, or other electronic media not specifically covered by a warrant. Do not provide passwords to devices.
- Call your lawyer and CBLDF. Once you’re in custody, you will have the right to place a phone call. Memorize the phone number of your attorney, and contact that person or someone who can contact your attorney. Then, have your lawyer contact CBLDF — our experts can help. If you don’t have a lawyer, contact 1-888-88-CBLDF (22533).
The situations discussed previously are the most high-risk situations stores are likely to encounter. There are a number of other situations retailers may face that could impact their rights and even escalate to a legal situation. In this section, we’ll discuss some common risk scenarios and best practices for handling them.
How to Handle Customer Complaints
Prosecutions often happen because a member of the community has brought a complaint related to material they found in a store to law enforcement. These complaints often originate with a confrontation in the store. If you encounter a customer complaint related to the content you sell, here are some good practices for managing the situation:
- Be polite and listen. In most cases, someone bringing a complaint wants to be heard and is open to finding a reasonable solution.
- Follow your policies. If something has innocently gone amiss — a book was put back in the wrong place, for instance — solve the problem. However, if the concern needs to be directed to someone else, be polite and…
- Observe your store’s chain of command. Refer customers and their complaints about content to the appropriate person.
- Don’t argue, don’t antagonize, don’t overpromise.
Generally, customers want to be heard, and their concerns should be taken seriously. However, it’s important to let the appropriate decision-makers in your organization make the final call on customer concerns.
How to Handle Protesters
Protests are protected by the First Amendment; however, there are rules about how protests can be conducted. Here are some useful guidelines for understanding protest activities and your rights.
- Protesters have rights, and so do you.
- Protesters have the right to use public sidewalks and thoroughfares so long as they leave space for normal traffic flow.
- Protesters don’t have the right to block or disrupt access to private property.
- In some jurisdictions, shopping malls are an exception to the rule prohibiting protest on private property. Malls have been recognized in some courts as a “functional equivalent” of the traditional public gathering place. California has recognized that malls have “common areas that would invite the public to meet, congregate, or engage in other activities typical of a public forum.” While protests are permitted in some mall environments, that activity may not interfere with the commercial purpose of the mall.
- Protesters must follow the rules of the property owner, or they may be asked to leave. If they don’t leave, police can be called.