Incident at Steubenville theater prompts apologies, civil rights call to action

Ohio Valley Black Caucus President Delores Wiggins and Bishop Jermaine Moore of the Mount Zion Baptist Church read an e-mail apology sent by an official from AMC Theaters, the company that now owns the Carmike Theaters at the Fort Steuben Mall. —Dave Gossett

Ohio Valley Black Caucus President Delores Wiggins and Bishop Jermaine Moore of the Mount Zion Baptist Church read an e-mail apology sent by an official from AMC Theaters, the company that now owns the Carmike Theaters at the Fort Steuben Mall. —Dave Gossett

STEUBENVILLE — Officials with AMC Theaters sent e-mail apologies to local civil rights activist Delores Wiggins and Bishop Jermaine Moore of the Mount Zion Baptist Church regarding an Easter Sunday incident at the Carmike Theaters at the Fort Steuben Mall.

And, Ryan Noonan, director of corporate communications, issued a statement Thursday admitting an error by the theater staff.

“We have been in communication with Bishop Moore multiple times to deliver a direct apology both from the theater’s management staff and from AMC Theatres. This incident does not reflect the AMC movie-going experience that we strive to deliver to our guests every day, and we are taking it as an opportunity to provide additional training to the theater team,” said Noonan.

“We offer our sincerest apology to Bishop Moore and his party for the situation they experienced at our Steubenville theater. The usher on duty observed a small group of people entering the theater through an exit door. That usher began entering auditoriums looking for these individuals and mistakenly identified Bishop Moore and his party. Bishop Moore should not have been approached and we regret how this situation was handled at the theater,” Brian Douglass, director, operations excellence for AMC Theaters wrote in his e-mail.

“We have retained a lawyer because we refuse to take this kind of treatment. We are humans and the people at the theater should not talk to people like this. The boycott days are not over. If we have to we will do that. I believe the ticket taker, the shift manager and the general manager should be fired,” Wiggins said.

Moore said he will not return to the Carmike Theaters and has posted his version of the incident on social media.

“When you returned to the theater on Monday to speak to the theater’s general manager about these issues she felt overwhelmed by the situation, which is why she didn’t respond. Following that she reached out to AMC leadership for guidance, which we have provided,” concluded Douglass.

“We appreciate the letter Mr. Douglass sent. But in my 45 years working in civil rights, never have I known a situation like this. I prefer to sit at a table to discuss issues because at the end you get results,” Wiggins noted.

A second letter from the local theater general manager, hourly manager and crew member was sent to Moore and Wiggins offering an apology for the incident.

“I take full responsibility for the actions of my team. I also apologize for not personally acting on opportunities to discuss the situation the following day. I have been in the movie theater business for 18 years and I continue to learn every day from my successes and my mistakes. This has been a learning moment for me and I guarantee it has been a learning moment for my team and others at AMC that will allow us to better serve this community,” wrote General Manager Tami Hosterman.

“I cannot change the experience you had but I would like to personally invite you and your party to join us as our guests again and afford us another opportunity to show that our service delivery is much better than what your experienced. Additionally we would like to offer a screening at our theater for you and your congregation or in support of a charitable organization of your choice,” concluded Hosterman.

The incident at the theater involved Moore and three members of his congregation who were watching “The Fate of the Furious” movie.

“I had Easter dinner with my parishioners and mentioned I was going to see the movie. My friends said they would also like to see it, so we all went to the theater at the mall. There were approximately 20 people in the theater. My friend, Charles Prentice, paid for the tickets, his fiancee bought popcorn and I bought two drinks and a bag of small Snickers. The usher who took our tickets directed us to Theater 2 and we went in and sat down. Maybe 20 minutes into the movie the usher came in with a flashlight and started looking around the theater and interrupting the movie,” related Moore.

“He came back in a second time and came straight to me and said, ‘you don’t have a ticket, come with me.’ I showed him my ticket and he finally left. Then the City Police showed up several minutes later and asked us to step out of the theater. I went out and the officer said the theater management was accusing us of sneaking into the theater. I showed the police officer my ticket and he was very understanding and they left,” Moore continued.

According to the City Police report, “Mr. Prentice felt their group was singled out and the usher did not ask anyone else in the room for their tickets. Mr. Prentice walked out to speak to the manager with officers and advised he wanted his money back and that he was displeased with the theater. Mr. Prentice showed the manager his ticket at this time. Officers left both parties to remedy the matter as they see fit.”

Moore said the shift manager told Prentice and himself, “we have the right to pull anyone out of the movie.”

“I told her, ‘I am spending money with you’ and she told me to go spend my money somewhere else. I was so upset that night I called my councilman, Bob Villamagna, and told him I had just been racially profiled,” Moore said.

“What happened was terrible. We were in the lobby at the concession stand area laughing and talking. We are on the video system in the lobby and then we were accused of sneaking into the theater. When I walked out to talk to the shift manager she told me we fit the profile of the people who snuck into the theater. I told her we are not criminals. She then told me we didn’t have to come to that theater. The police were very nice about the entire thing and I think they didn’t understand why they were called to the theater,” Prentice stated.

City Manager Jim Mavromatis said he had been in contact with AMC Theaters.

“Poor judgment was used at the theater on Easter night, but I believe AMC is handling the situation in an appropriate manner and they have taken corrective action,” Mavromatis said Thursday.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)

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