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‘A case of all Asians look alike’: Florida man sues police, Walmart for racial profiling, false arrest

Tony Nguyen arrested by Hudson County deputy Michael McNeeley
via Tony Effin Nguyen

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    A man from Hudson, Florida, has filed a federal suit against a Hernando County deputy, a Walmart loss prevention officer and Walmart itself for allegedly wrongfully arresting him after mistaking him for another Asian person.

    The arrest, which was caught in a now-viral video, occurred at the Walmart Supercenter on Commercial Way in Spring Hill on Nov. 27. 2022.

    According to reports, the incident began when the Walmart loss prevention officer called 911 to report an “Asian male” who allegedly trespassed into the store. 

    The employee identified the man as “Cody Vondelinde” to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office over the phone, saying, “There’s an Asian male in the store right now. His name is Cody Vondelinde. He trespassed from this store. He is not allowed to be here, and he also tends to be violent and carries weapons.”

    Cody Vondelinde (left) and Tony Nguyen (right) Image via Hernando County Sheriff’s Office

    Shortly after, the Hudson County deputy arrived and arrested Tony Nguyen, who had been shopping with his girlfriend, Lauren Caldwell.

    Caldwell filmed the encounter, which saw the deputy put her boyfriend in handcuffs and pull him out of the store and into a police vehicle.

    “Why are you pulling me? I’m walking with you,” Nguyen says in protest. “You know I’m disabled, right? I have back issues.”

    Nguyen was taken to jail, and it was only then when officers finally asked for his ID, according to the suit.

    “I was able to confirm your ID at the jail. You’re not the person he was looking for,” a deputy reportedly told Nguyen. “You have not been trespassed, and so I’m taking you back to your house. And for me personally, I apologize. Sometimes identities get mixed up.”

    However, Nguyen said he was not immediately released. While on the police ride home, the sheriff allegedly kept him in handcuffs, pulled over and took his photos to “confirm” his identity yet again.

    Nguyen recalled the events in a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe:

    I did think it was strange and illegal to have me handcuffed while sitting on the side of a street for 30 to 40 minutes after the fact he said he was taking me home, so that means I was being held against my will. So he then proceeds to open my door and says, “I have to take pictures of you to confirm it’s you.” He took pictures of my face, also had me lift my shirt to take pictures of my tattoos all on the side of a dark road. All this was taken through his iPhone.

    Nguyen said the sheriff then got a call and told him again that he was not the person they were looking for; however, to Nguyen’s shock, he was returned to jail for supposedly violating a 2013 trespass.

    “The trespass warning issued at Walmart was still in effect after never having been rescinded by officials there,” Hernando County Sheriff’s Office told WFTS in January. “Therefore, probable cause existed for the arrest of Tony Nguyen for the trespass in question. He was processed and charged accordingly.”

    Nguyen was trespassed in the same Walmart in 2013 for acting “loopy” after a dental procedure, according to Indisputable. However, that trespass supposedly lasted for only a year, and he has repeatedly shopped at the store since without issue.

    Nguyen’s charges were later dropped. It is unclear how long he remained in custody.

    Nguyen and his attorneys are now suing the Hernando County deputy, the Walmart loss prevention officer and Walmart for $10 million. 

    WTSP identified the deputy as Michael McNeeley and the Walmart employee as David Pettigrew.

    “This is a case of all Asians look alike because when Deputy McNeeley showed up, guess what he didn’t do? He didn’t identify Tony,” Nguyen’s attorney said, according to WFTS.

    Nguyen said the incident has made him fearful of being arrested again without cause. His vehicles now all have dash cams and he keeps his phone ready to record at all times.

    The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said it does not comment on pending litigation, according to WTSP. Walmart, for its part, vowed to “respond as appropriate in court once we are served.”


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