A Vietnamese-American man from Hudson has filed a $10 million lawsuit against a Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputy and Walmart for allegedly racially profiling him and then falsely arresting him during an incident at the Walmart Supercenter at 1485 Commercial Way in Spring Hill in November 2022.
According to the HCSO, the incident began on Nov. 27 when a Walmart Asset Protection Specialist called the HCSO to report that an Asian-American man was trespassing in the store. According to the employee’s 911 call, store security said that Cody Vondelinde, who is also Asian-American, was inside the store when he should not have been.
“He trespassed from this store,” the HCSO said in a redacted text of the call. “He is not allowed to be here, and he also tends to be violent and carries weapons.”
At the scene, an employee allegedly erroneously directed the responding HCSO deputy to Tom Nguyen, who was shopping with his girlfriend, according to an in-store video of the incident. Nguyen was subsequently arrested for trespassing and taken to the Hernando County Detention Center for processing. During that processing, Nguyen produced personal identification, which indicated that he was not Cody Vondelinde.
In his lawsuit brought by attorneys Harry Daniels, Shaunette Stokes, and Norman Harris, Nguyen alleges that he was falsely arrested and racially profiled because, as an Asian-American man, he was confused with Vondelinde.
“The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office may think it’s okay to reach back nearly ten years and kidnap an innocent man to cover up a mistake. But we don’t,” Daniels said. “Walmart may think they can treat people anyway they want for any reason or no reason at all. But we don’t. They might think all Asian men look alike. But we don’t.”
In response, HCSO Public Relations Manager Denise Moloney said the agency does have a 2013 trespassing warning for Nguyen at the Commercial Way Walmart store that was active at the time of the alleged incident.
“The trespass warning issued at Walmart was still in effect after never having been rescinded by officials there,” the HCSO said in a written statement. “Therefore, probable cause existed for the arrest of Tony Nguyen for the trespass in question. He was processed and charged accordingly.”
The case is pending.