Gun clips found in a theater. A police officer quietly terminated after enforcing theater policy. A supervisor sleeping on the job while patrons watch a movie. No one is talking, but the stage is being set for a real-life suspense drama.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In full disclosure, the following story involves Genice Leavell, the daughter of Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell. To avoid conflict of interest concerns or appearances, the Crusader has a policy to not publish stories where its sources have family or business ties to the newspaper. However, disturbing details in this story have raised serious safety concerns that may pose a threat to the public patronizing a popular movie theater.
By Erick Johnson
The scene was Marcus Theaters in Country Club Hills, a predominately Black suburb some 26 miles south of Chicago. There’s plenty of action on its big screens, but to many, the real drama happens in the lobby, where a camera that’s always rolling captures the moments when a loud patron doesn’t want to play by the script.
When one patron was allegedly told by a police officer that she couldn’t bring a big purse into the movie theatre, a blockbuster was born. It would become a real-life suspense story that would include a boy finding a gun-clip in his seat, and a photo of a supervisor sleeping in a recliner on the job while patrons watch a flick.
The real-life plot also includes a police officer being quietly terminated after enforcing a limited-size purse policy that her higher-ups allegedly compromised time and time again, to gain the favor of defiant patrons.
Management and corporate big wigs are accused of being the villains who stay silent while a lawyer launches an investigation to sniff out evidence to prove his client’s innocence.
It all takes place at Country Club Hills Marcus Theatre, 16-screen facility that’s a heavy favorite among patrons who pack the place during busy weekends. Marcus Theater opened the facility in 2016 after purchasing it from AMC Loews. Marcus Theater pimped the new facility with the latest audio and visual effects, a full service bar with a big screen TV, and eating area, with a rolled out and upgraded menu that included higher-quality food that could be served to movie-goers watching a movie in red and black recliner seats in a stadium-style layout.
Days before its grand opening, public outrage forced Marcus Theater to apologize to a 16-year old girl who had been offered a job but was fired because of her dreadlocked hair.
The latest incident involving the Marcus Theater is even more serious, one that is headed to court, involving a police officer losing her job in a case that paints the movie theater as a place where anything goes, and the public’s safety is at risk.
The case involves Genice Leavell, a 27-year veteran police officer. She is one of three female police officers at the Marcus Theater in Country Club Hills, who are employed ascontractors through Steiner Security Services in Crestwood.
At Marcus Theatre in Country Club Hills, the duties of the police officers include enforcing Marcus Theatre policies, periodically checking all 16 theaters, patrolling the premises and the facility’s parking lot.
Their biggest job is at the ticket checkpoint, where officers not only protect the ticket rippers, but make sure patrons comply with Marcus Theater’s corporate policies that prohibit weapons, alcohol, outside food and other items from being brought into the movie theatre. Officers also enforce the R rated movie policy, which includes verifying age requirements and photo IDs.
The most challenging corporate policy is one that limits patrons- who are usually women-to bringing an acceptable-size purse into the theatre.
When Marcus Theaters implemented the new bag policy on October 1, 2019, the theater in Country Club Hills drew many complaints from patrons, perhaps more than any of its five locations in Northwest Illinois. If the purse did not fit in a 12X12X6 square, patrons were turned away and told to leave the bags in their cars.
Despite the size increase, sources say the theater continued to draw numerous complaints from patrons, many of whom were loud in voicing their anger over the police enforcing this policy. On many occasions, Leavell said, her supervisor Bruce Ford, management and other police officers would allow patrons whose purses exceeded the policy limit into the theatres anyway.
Leavell said this practice empowered defiant patrons who would try to use this exception to enter the theater again on future visits.
“The problem wasn’t just the patrons, it was the managers who would use their discretion and were not enforcing the policy,” Leavell said, adding, “which is the manager’s right to do so.”
“It made it harder for me and my colleagues to effectively enforce the policy,” says Leavell.
“The very first rule of the admittance policy states, ‘no profanity, disruptive behavior, or vulgar attire is allowed in the theatre.’ When management condones this kind of behavior from patrons toward police officers and the Marcus Theater workers at the ticket rip, it endangers everyone.”
Leavell explained, “When management rewards patrons who exhibit this behavior and let them in, not enforcing Marcus’ policies, it empowers the patron to come back and violate the policy again.”
For this story, the Crusader left phone messages and emails for Ford and General Manager Chris Summers. Emails were also sent to Julie Caan and Mari Randa from Marcus Theater’s corporate media relations office. No one responded by Crusader press time Wednesday. The Crusader was unable to reach Steiner Securities by press time Wednesday, but after contacting them the next day, a spokesperson said “We have no comment on that.”
On January 22, Leavell said she received a phone call from Ford, her supervisor. Ford told her that Marcus Theater’s corporate office received a complaint from a patron who was not allowed into the theater on Saturday, January 18, after she was told her purse did not meet the facility’s bag policy. The unidentified patron said the officer “berated” her about her bag in front of a crowd of people waiting in line at the ticket rip checkpoint.
Leavell said she does not recall any incidents that happened that day. She told Ford that the manager on duty that date, was Robert, who could verify this. Ford said Summers was going to look at the video to verify the patron’s claims.
Meanwhile, Ford wrote a letter to Summers in response to the woman’s claims. In that letter, Ford said, “Managers are letting people in, in order to keep the peace…This presents a problem for the officer to do there (sic)job properly. In this case and others, it is always female against female. In my opinion, females don’t like to be told anything by another female, especially if she’s the police.”
Ford ended the letter saying Leavell is “a little hyper, but a good worker.”
On January 23, Leavell said Ford informed her that Summers ordered him to remove her from the work schedule, without any explanation. Leavell said she asked Ford to ask Summers to provide her a written explanation and any evidence of alleged wrongdoing in performing her duties at Marcus. Leavell said she never got a response from Ford or anyone from Marcus Theater and Steiner Security Services.
That same day, Leavell said Ford called her Chicago Heights Marcus Theater supervisor, William Henderson, and told him to remove Leavell from the work schedule in Chicago Heights as well. She said Henderson was not given any explanation as to why.
Leavell said Vivian McGrew, owner of Steiner Security, did not speak with her until January 28. Days later on January 31 Leavell said McGrew told her that she “would not be going back to work at Marcus Theatres.” McGrew confirmed that she had been terminated.
According to Leavell, she then asked McGrew if she would put the termination in writing and send it to her. To this day, Leavell said she has not received any evidence or documentation showing what she had done wrong.
Leavell said neither Marcus Theater or Steiner Security ever gave her a warning or written reprimand about her behavior at work.
On the popular consumer website Yelp, Marcus Theater in Country Club Hills averages just two out of five stars. The negative comments are identical to Leavell’s claims about defiant patrons and managers who don’t enforce the corporate policies.
One reviewer, Greg G. from Chicago, said on October 31, 2019: “the manager let other women in with their bags but not my wife? I really hope this is not a case of racism (we are both white). What if a bad egg working there decides to call some friends to let them know that there is a whole parking lot filled with cars containing purses?”
Another reviewer, Li-Li M., from Chicago’s Near West Side said “What pushed me over the edge is their new bag policy. After arriving with prepaid tickets purchased, I’m being told that I can’t enter with my purse (LV bucket bag) because it’s too big and they have a new bag policy. This is ridiculous.”
Shaunetta P. from Country Club Hills said on December 27, 2019, that she was “annoyed” when she had to return to her car to put her purse inside because it was too large. She said when she reentered the building, “the same police officer stopped me again because she saw a bottle of tea and a bottle of water in my pocket.”
The patron goes on to say, “she made me throw away an entirely new unopened bottle of tea, but surprisingly allowed me to bring in the bottle of water.” She added that she spent $70 to bring her family to the movie.
Still, Shaunetta said the officer did not notice that her other pocket hid another fresh bottle of tea. She goin with the tea and a bottle of water that was in her hand during her conversation with the officer.Then, Shaunetta said, she “was also aware of others who brought in snacks and beverages, however they were not stopped or searched…so I guess it is the luck of the draw who security decides wins the gift of harassment at any given time.”Leavell said following the chain of command, she reported the problems in enforcing the policy to Ford, her supervisor, hoping that her concerns would be addressed.
“They weren’t,” she said. “It was a known problem at the theater. Very few people, including the managers were consistently enforcing the policy.”
Safety is a big concern at Marcus Theater in Country Club Hills. In 2017, Timothy Horace, a 31-year old man died after he was shot in the chest and thigh in the parking lot of the theatre’s parking lot. Horace’s girlfriend and child witnessed the shooting.
On one occasion, Leavell said a parent gave her a gun clip that her 5-year-old son found in the seat inside the movie theater. She took the gun clip and took a picture of it on her cell phone in the women’s bathroom. Leavell said she reported it to Summers who said it was the second gun clip found in the theater that week.
Marcus Theater’s bag policy does not allow police officers to search the contents of the purse. Leavell believes that must change given the problems the theatre’s had in the past.
A Crusader reporter made several attempts to verify Leavell’s story during a visit to Marcus Theater on February 4. Signs communicating the theater’s policy were posted on all six of the facility’s doors at the front entrance. The reporter verified the photo of the gun clip, noting the wallpaper outside the women’s bathroom matched that of wallpaper in the photo that shows the gun clip that was allegedly found by the 5-year old boy inside the movie theatre.
There were also questions about a photograph that was taken last May, of Ford as he slept in his uniform on duty in a movie theatre while patrons watched a movie. The Crusader was shown the photo on a cell phone that still had the date on it.
The Crusader spoke to another officer whose name will be withheld to protect the officer’s job.
The officer said Ford on many occasions allowed loud patrons who used profane language to enter the theater despite being in violation of the purse policy. The officer said this went on constantly to the point where the officer thought about quitting every day.
“They [managers] didn’t want a scene so they would just let that person in,” the officer said.
The officer also verified the photo of Ford sleeping in the theatre, saying many ushers were sharing it with others and talking constantly about it. The officer said remembers the day when a gun clip was found in a movie seat.
“I was like wow,” the officer said.“Nothing was done about it.”
The officer also said Ford and other managers at the theatre would turn a “blind eye” to 15 and 16-year olds entering an R-rated movie. With no one to turn to for answers, Leavell retained Joshua N. Karmel, a private labor attorney.
Karmel referenced a letter written by Ford to Summers, wherein Ford “likely made recommendations to your client to punish Ms. Leavell because she is female.”
“Unless Ford has a degree in psychology and sociology, he should not be permitted to make sweeping generalizations about the interaction among females as a basis for his investigation,” stated Karmel.
In the same letter to McGrew, the owner of Steiner Security, Karmel said Leavell may have “various employment related claims, including sexual discrimination and retaliation for complaining to management.”
”Karmel has asked Steiner Security to preserve all documents from the alleged incident on January 18.
“Considering the facts surrounding her termination, we find it troubling that Leavell was terminated for what we understand was acting in her capacity as a Police Officer at the Marcus Theater in Country Club Hills and simply enforcing the policy of the theater.”
In Leavell’s view, she said she did her job, and “cared more about enforcing Marcus Theater policies than management did.”
TO OUR READERS: Since this story was published Feburary 6, the Crusader has learned that Ford has been removed from the schedule at Marcus Theater in Country Club Hills.
AN UPDATE: On Friday, February 7, a reader who recognized the published photo that captured Bruce Ford sleeping in the moving theater while on the job, shared his personal experience at Marcus Theater in Country Club Hills. In August 2019, the reader said he flagged down a male police officer to inform him of a group of disruptive teenagers who were using loud, profane language and making comments while patrons were watching a movie. The reader said the police officer radioed Ford several times, but never got a response. The reader said the police officer told him “What more do you want to me to do?” and left the theater as the teenagers continued to disrupt patrons watching the movie. After the movie, the reader said he was “livid” and went to the checkpoint where Ford and his police officers were gathered. He said he looked at Ford and told him about his experience. The reader said Ford asked him why he never told anyone about the disruptive teenagers. The reader said his response was, “I did, but you never showed up.” The reader said Ford did not respond to this comment and remained silent. The reader said he then left the facility disgusted and frustrated. The reader requested to remain anonymous because of hif field of work. He said he is pleased that the Crusader story is bringing to light the problems at Marcus Theater.
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