OAKHURST – The mother of a man arrested at Wells Fargo on Monday night is speaking out about the incident and what she claims was the harsh treatment of her son.
Marie Stagner says she wants to tell her story because “it sounds like we’re the worst people in the whole world. My son is still in shock, he’s black and blue, with scratches on his face and his kidney is hurting. He is totally emotionally distraught.”
Though she does not disagree that an unfortunate incident took place, she feels bank employees and deputies overreacted, so she called SNO, wanting to tell the story from her point of view.
Marie, 76, says that she and her son Stephen Stagner, 53, both of Oakhurst, were leaving the next day for a cruise and a trip to Disney World, so they stopped in at the Wells Fargo branch in the Vons store on Monday, Nov. 18, to retrieve some items from their safe deposit box.
Marie disputes the report that Stephen was agitated when they arrived at the branch. She asserts that the bank employees didn’t pay any attention to them, and that her son did get angry when he felt he was being ignored.
She denies reports that they were banging on the door to the office, but does agree that her son got upset and agitated at the perceived lack of timely service.
Marie also believes that her son did not assault anyone. While they were waiting to be let in to the bank office, one of the tellers behind the counter “stuck out her hand. I don’t know if she was trying to be friendly or shake his hand, but he took his fingers and pushed her hand away and kept walking. This is what they call ‘assault,'” says Marie.
She states that while she was retrieving her items from the safe deposit box, her son apologized twice to the bank employees, explaining that he was having a bad day, and that he should not have been rude.
“When I was done, we said goodbye to the girl that had helped us, and then the bank manager came in and was very condescending,” says Marie. “She said that this was her bank and that we were not to come in here and harass her employees.”
Marie tells SNO that in response to what she and her son perceived to be a demeaning attitude by the manager, her son said to the woman, “You know, I don’t even want to come into your bank and see your ugly face and your ugly straggly black hair.” Marie feels that this is the reason the manager called for deputies, to “get revenge” for his behavior.
Witnesses say that Stephen was yelling and cursing very loudly, and it was at this point that the bank called 911, reporting that these customers were causing a disturbance.
Marie says she then told the manager that she would need to empty her safe deposit box, and went back to do so while her son waited in the car.
“They told me I would have to sign something since I was giving up the box,” she says. “I waited almost half an hour to sign that paper. They had me there under false pretenses about the safe deposit box until the sheriffs got there,” she says.
Witnesses disagree with this timeline, stating that deputies arrived within 10 minutes of the son leaving the store the first time.
When she was finished with her paperwork, and left the bank office, Marie says a deputy was waiting outside the door, and she was told that “this gentleman will escort you out.” She says she objected to that, telling them she didn’t need an escort.
“If they walked me out, people are going to think I did something wrong. Like I stole something.”
Meanwhile, Marie says her son had gotten worried when she didn’t return to the car, and was walking up and down the aisles in Vons looking for her. “It’s not like he was hiding or trying to escape.”
A crowd of people had formed near the bank due to the disturbance and presence of deputies, and when Stephen saw his mother there, he came over and asked her what was going on. The deputy then asked Stephen to go outside and talk, to which he responded, “We don’t have anything to talk about. I don’t know what’s going on but we can talk right here.”
Marie’s perception of the request to go outside is that the deputy wanted to go some place where there weren’t any cameras.
“My son refused to go outside, so the deputy grabbed his arm and pushed him to the ground,” says Marie. “My son at that point was screaming. I think anybody probably would be. Yes he was fighting; he was resisting the arrest because he hadn’t done anything.”
She says that another deputy then came in and became physical with her son, and “kneeled down really hard on his kidney, grabbed his neck and smashed his face on the ground. Everybody thought it was a bank robbery or something. They said I touched his arm; this is true because I was standing there and he grabbed my son and pushed him on the floor, and I reached out and said ‘he didn’t do anything.’ It’s the automatic response of a mother.”
Witnesses dispute the assertion that deputies were anything other than completely professional, did not use excessive force, and did their best to get Stagner to comply with their repeated directions.
After they were escorted out of the store, Marie says a “very, very nice sergeant came over and was extremely calm.” She says he explained that this would just be a misdemeanor, not a felony, and that in a bank these things are taken very seriously because there are so many bank robberies.
Explaining that the Sheriff’s SUV was very high, and that Stephen is a small person who couldn’t get up into the vehicle, Marie claims that a deputy went to the other side of the SUV and grabbed him by the hair to pull him in.
The Sheriff’s Office, along with other witnesses, say Stephen was screaming and refusing to get into the vehicle, so they pulled him in from the opposite side, but do not say anyone pulled him by the hair.
“Then I guess my son panicked because he is ill and has liver failure and is diabetic, so they called the ambulance.”
After paramedics had checked her son’s blood sugar and determined that it was okay, Marie says she was told to go home and wait for a few hours and then she could go pick him up at the county jail.
“The very nice sergeant even wrote a little map so I could find the jail,” she says. She then went home to wait for her son to be released, which happened at about 4 a.m.
They were supposed to leave the next day for a vacation, says Marie, and they missed their flight and all the money they had paid in advance for plane and cruise tickets and hotel rooms, some $6,000.
“My son is a good person. I know he got angry, but he did not hurt anybody and everything was okay. We’ve been loyal customers of that bank for years and years, and that woman in the bank took her revenge because he called her ugly.”
Julie Campbell, spokesperson for Wells Fargo, responded to questions about the incident saying, “In an instance like this, I need to refer you to the Sheriff because they’re going to have the most accurate information. The reason we do this is to protect our team members as well as our customers’ privacy.”
Marie Stagner says there is plenty of evidence on the video cameras at the bank to back up her story, and that she will be consulting an attorney.
“This is going to be a big lawsuit. Of course we missed our plane, we missed our vacation, and my son is really sick now. All the people from the bank were lying and the cameras will show that.”
A witness who says he was in the store from the time the deputies arrived until Stephen Stagner was removed says that the accounts of the incident originally posted by SNO “are precisely as they happened. I would gladly be a witness to the professionalism of the Wells Fargo staff and the sheriffs who tried every way possible to get him to cooperate before they had to force him to leave as he became more and more aggressive. The sheriffs did everything they could to make sure he was forcefully removed without injuring him.”
To read the story of the arrest, click here.