Crime

Driver of NFL player says he was tossed from Neiman Marcus because he’s black

Sniders Jean-Jacques in front of his Range Rover outside of his North Miami Beach home. Jean-Jacques said he was tossed from Neiman Marcus because of his skin color.
Sniders Jean-Jacques in front of his Range Rover outside of his North Miami Beach home. Jean-Jacques said he was tossed from Neiman Marcus because of his skin color. Miami Herald

Sniders Jean-Jacques’ visit to Neiman Marcus at the Bal Harbour Shops wasn’t that unusual. A driver for professional athletes, he waited in his red Range Rover while his client shopped. Then he went inside to use the bathroom.

A few minutes later, Jean-Jacques was approached by Bal Harbour police. A Neiman Marcus employee felt uncomfortable with Jean-Jacques so close to an open display case with millions of dollars’ worth of jewelry. So she called the cops.

Whether Jean-Jacques was escorted out of the store or left on his own is still up in the air.

But this isn’t: The expensive Prada suit and watch he was wearing that day wasn’t enough to allay the fear of a Neiman Marcus employee that he posed a threat. And his client, Washington Redskins cornerback Chris Culliver, didn’t get to Jean-Jacques in time to speak with the police.

Jean-Jacques, 28, an Uber driver who also chauffeurs professional athletes around for a living, said he was escorted from the department store by Bal Harbour police, and discriminated against by Neiman Marcus, because he’s black.

There is nothing in the April 29 police incident report that indicates police booted him from the store or asked him to leave. It does say they asked Jean-Jacques if he had a weapon and for his driver’s license.

“It was embarrassing. Imagine walking out of the store with four police officers and everyone looking at you,” he said. “I grew up here. I can go in that store and spend $10,000.”

Jean-Jacques said he drove Culliver and three friends to Neiman Marcus at Bal Harbour on the afternoon of April 29. He stayed in his Rover as the three of them went on a shopping spree. About two hours later, Jean-Jacques said, he needed to use the bathroom and made his way into the store.

When he was done, he said, he took a seat on a couch inside the store waiting for Culliver. The police report said Jean-Jacques was seated behind a staircase adjacent to the jewelry department. A few minutes later he was approached by police. He said no one from Neiman Marcus ever spoke with him.

Jean-Jacques said since the April 29 incident Neiman Marcus representatives have called him repeatedly to offer apologies. He was offered a free lunch at the ritzy Zodiac Restaurant at Bal Harbour. He got an email from the store vice president and General Manager Elias Synalovski offering a $500 gift card and apologizing for “your unpleasant experience.”

“I’m very glad we were able to resolve this matter,” Synalovski wrote Jean-Jacques on May 2.

Well, not exactly.

Jean-Jacques wants a public apology. He wants damages for money he’s likely to lose from clients who crave anonymity and may no longer call him. He’s hired Fort Lauderdale attorney Joseph Fazio.

Reached Tuesday, Synalovski told the Miami Herald he didn’t have any information about Jean-Jacques’ April visit to Neiman Marcus. When asked about the lunch and gift certificate offers, Synalovski said, “I can’t discuss this with you. Bye-bye.”

Fazio said he spoke with Culliver this week and that the NFL cornerback verified Jean-Jacques account.

“He thought there was no reason to have him escorted from the premises,” Fazio said.

Calls to Culliver Tuesday were not returned.

The April 29 police report says a “male wearing a black suit had been suspiciously wandering around the precious jewelry department area for what appeared to be an extended period of time.”

That day, the report says, Neiman Marcus had millions of dollars of jewelry on display. The officers said they approached Jean-Jacques, but never patted him down. They asked him if he had a weapon and he said no. After he produced his driver’s license, the police said they let him go.

Though Culliver is not named in the report, it says two people caught up with Jean-Jacques in the parking lot after he called them. They got into his Range Rover and left.

But Jean-Jacques said it was actually Culliver, a friend and two women who got into his car. He also says he was escorted from the store by Bal Harbour police, a point that was not mentioned — intentionally he believes — by the officers in the report.

“They walked me out. They said come with us. They said they didn’t trust me near the million dollar department. They asked me to leave. They left that out of the police report,” said Jean-Jacques, adding that he intends to sue the police department, as well.

The report also says that a check of Jean-Jacques revealed a criminal history, but no open warrants. Asked about it, Jean-Jacques said he agreed to two years of probation as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors over a money laundering charge three years ago. That couldn’t be confirmed Tuesday.

Bal Harbour Police Chief Mark Overton said if the incident report is accurate, his officers did as they’re supposed to.

“I was actually pleased they didn’t do a pat down. He left on his own. The cops did the right thing,” said Overton.

The police chief said Jean-Jacques is welcome to file a report if he believes the interaction was mischaracterized. And if that’s the case, the department will conduct an inquiry, said the chief.

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