Black man trying to propose to his girlfriend interrupted by security guard accusing him of shoplifting

Hannah Knowles

Cathy-Marie Hamlet started her Facebook post with the good news: She'd gotten engaged.

But her fiance kept getting interrupted, she said, as he proposed from the lawn of hard cider company Angry Orchard's tree-filled, 60-acre property in New York's Hudson Valley.

Security intruded on the couple's happy moment three times to accuse Ms Hamlet's boyfriend of stealing a T-shirt, including once while he popped the question.

Staffers followed Ms Hamlet and her fiance, who are black, to the parking lot as they left, the 32-year-old wrote in her post, which had been shared more than 5,000 times Tuesday afternoon. She believes they were racially profiled.

"I have never been so humiliated in my life," she said. "[M]yself and some of my friends left Angry Orchard in tears."

Angry Orchard has replaced members of the security team involved and removed the manager who was on duty, Jessica Paar, a spokeswoman for Boston Beer Co. – Angry Orchard's owner – told The Washington Post in a statement on Tuesday.

The company is also launching new, mandatory training on "security awareness and unconscious bias" for the staff.

"We badly mishandled the situation and our team overreacted," Ms Paar said, adding, "The situation doesn't reflect our values of respect for all and creating a welcoming environment for all our guests."

Ms Paar did not immediately respond to questions clarifying the company's actions against the employees involved.

Ms Hamlet wrote on Facebook that she and her fiance, identified by NBC News as Clyde Jackson, had left New York City on Sunday for Angry Orchard's farm in Walden. The occasion: Mr Jackson's 40th birthday. Six friends came along.

A woman from security at the cider company approached the couple before they'd sat down at a table outside, Ms Hamlet said. The employee apologised and said she'd have to check Mr Jackson's back pocket, explaining that someone told her Mr Jackson stole a shirt from the gift store.

Mr Jackson emptied out his pockets while trying to hide the ring he was about to propose with, Ms Hamlet recalled. No T-shirt was found.

Mr Jackson launched into his proposal, she said, but before he could finish, the employee was back – this time saying she needed to check Ms Hamlet's bag because someone told her Mr Jackson gave her the stolen item.

Ms Hamlet said she did as asked, even though her bag was too small to fit a shirt. But she questioned the woman's motives: "I know you're just doing your job, but I can't help but wonder if this is because we're Black," her Facebook post said. "We're the only Black people here at your establishment."

Angry Orchard's tree-lined 60 acre plot in New York's Hudson Valley (Google)

The woman denied that race was a factor and went away, Ms Hamlet said, leaving Mr Jackson to finish his proposal – and her to accept. People cheered. The friends who accompanied the couple to the farm joined them, hugging and congratulating the newly engaged couple.

That's when the Angry Orchard employee came back a third time, Ms Hamlet said. The security woman said that she hadn't realised the friends were a group and that now she'd need to check all of their purses and pockets. More security workers came over, and Ms Hamlet says she found her party facing six employees who claimed patrons, too, had witnessed Mr Jackson stealing a T-shirt.

"I felt humiliated, especially after one of my white friends made a point of asking them to check her bag for the T-shirt, but they refused to do so," Ms Hamlet told NBC.

"Call the police! I saw you steal it," Ms Hamlet said one of the security people shouted to another.

When Ms Hamlet told the employees to check their security cameras – which the staff said existed – the employees started filming the group and took a picture of Ms Hamlet's license plate, according to Hamlet. Asked whether Angry Orchard had reviewed security footage, Ms Paar said she would have to look into it.

With the dispute escalating, the couple and their friends "decided to leave rather than be attacked," Ms Hamlet wrote online, saying she has "no reason to steal a $28 T-shirt."

She vowed not to drink Angry Orchard again.

Angry Orchard said in a statement tweeted out Tuesday that it began investigating the incident Ms Hamlet described as soon as it learned about the events. The security team involved "approached a group of guests based on what they thought was credible information at the time," Angry Orchard said in an earlier statement to People magazine.

Ms Paar said she reached out to Ms Hamlet on Monday and spoke with her on the phone to apologise.

Ms Hamlet did not respond to a request for a comment, and Mr Jackson could not be reached.

Angry Orchard was the latest company to scramble to address stories of employees singling out black customers. Starbucks faced accusations of racial profiling last year after a store manager called the police on two black men as they waited for a meeting.

The incident led the coffee chain to close more than 8,000 US stores for a day-long staff training on racial bias. Companies like Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Old Navy and Walmart have grappled with similar scandals, responding with investigations, new training and firings amid outrage.

Eric Yaverbaum, chairman at public relations firm Ericho Communications, said he thinks Ms Hamlet's story should prompt other companies to think more proactively about addressing racial profiling with their employees – to prevent incidents, rather than apologise afterward.

"The worst time to prepare is when the tide's rising," he added. "The tide's rising on this issue, period ... Address that in your workplace before it becomes a problem."

Ms Hamlet's dismay at Angry Orchard was about more than the spoiling of a joyful day, and she closed her Facebook post by telling the company that if they didn't want black patrons, it should "put a sign on the door so that we know we are not welcome."

She told NBC: "It's sad that in 2019 we still need to have these conversations."

The Washington Post