PINEVILLE, N.C. — Shirell Bates was shopping for school supplies for her kids when a police officer asked the North Carolina woman what was under her shirt.
Bates, a mother of two, is pregnant with twins.
“Initially, I thought he was joking, so my response was, ‘twins,'” she told CNN affiliate WSOC. “I’m 34 weeks with twins. I’m having a boy and a girl.”
But when the officer didn’t believe her, Bates realized something was off. She was being accused of shoplifting.
“At that point, to avoid him asking me again, I actually lifted my shirt just a little bit, just to expose my belly, so just he can see that I’m just a regular pregnant person buying school supplies,” Bates told WSOC.
The incident happened last week at a Staples stores in Pineville, North Carolina. A store manager “mistakenly assumed” she was shoplifting and reported it to a police officer visiting the store, a Staples spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.
After the police officer confirmed there was no theft, the employee told Bates that several people had previously hid merchandise in their clothing.
“She pretty much jumped the gun without any type of evidence, except for my stomach is large,” Bates said. “That’s not fair. No mom should have to go through that.”
The store says the manager has been terminated. The employee “did not follow correct protocol and also failed to adhere to our existing policy on how to interact with our customers.”
The company also apologized to Bates and gave her a full refund.
“At Staples, we want all customers to feel welcome in our stores, and work with our associates to foster an inclusive culture,” the company said.