Family of slain security guard sues Macy’s

Macy's stabbing
Dawn Fobbs, the mother of Eric Harrison, speaks at a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 9 in Center City.
Jack Tomczuk

The family of the security guard fatally stabbed last month inside Macy’s Center City location is taking legal action against the company and other firms associated with the store.

Lawyers representing Eric Harrison’s estate asserted that retailers have a duty to protect employees when there is a known crime threat. Attorney Eric Zajac said at a news conference Tuesday that he expects a pay-out “in the many millions of dollars.”

A man wielding a switchblade attacked Harrison, a 27-year-old Frankford resident, and a fellow Macy’s security team member Dec. 4 about 15 minutes after he was caught attempting to steal knit hats, authorities said at the time. The other guard survived, and Tyrone Garcell Tunnell, 30, is facing murder charges in the case.

Dawn Fobbs, Harrison’s mother, told reporters that, as a retail store manager with two decades of experience, she knows that Macy’s should have done more.

“They dropped the ball on so many aspects and me being in that business, I know how it should have went,” she said.

Macy’s declined to comment on the litigation, and a company spokesperson, in a statement, said, “We remain heartbroken about the tragedy that took place at Macy’s Center City. Our hearts go out to the Harrison family during this difficult time.”

Zajac argued that the killing occurred amid a “safety crisis” for Center City stores, with rampant shoplifting at the Macy’s and elsewhere.

“Theft is rampant, and criminals have become emboldened to do whatever they want,” he added. “Look, it’s basically become an open secret in Philadelphia that shoplifting and certain forms of theft are not being prosecuted. They’ve essentially been decriminalized.”

Macy's stabbing
Eric Coates and Dawn Fobbs, the parents of Eric Harrison, attend a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 9 in Center City.Jack Tomczuk

District Attorney Larry Krasner has repeatedly rejected that characterization when pressed by lawmakers and the media.

In 2018, early in his first term, he instructed prosecutors to charge most retail thefts involving less than $500 worth of merchandise as summary offenses, which typically result in a fine. Krasner has recently said his office has become more adept at identifying and prosecuting serial shoplifters and those trafficking in stolen goods.

Zajac noted that new Mayor Cherelle Parker, in her “public safety emergency” order, directed law enforcement leaders to develop a plan to specifically combat retail theft, among other quality-of-life offenses.

Following Harrison’s murder, Macy’s brought in a private security contractor and paid for a Philadelphia police presence at the Market Street building, which formerly housed a John Wanamaker department store.

“The fundamental question here is why did Eric Harrison have to die on the floor of the Macy’s for them to institute proper security measures,” Evan Padilla, another attorney for the estate, said.

Macy's stabbing
Philadelphia police officers walk outside of the Macy’s in Center City, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Philadelphia.Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Family members are also hoping the legal action will uncover how surveillance footage showing the stabbing was leaked onto social media, which they said created further trauma.

The initial court filing names Macy’s Retail Holdings LLC and seven other firms that “are involved in either the ownership or the management of at least some aspect of the building,” Zajac said.

They are hoping to get subpoenas for a host of documents detailing, among other things, the store’s security protocols and any communications involving discussions around crime and safety.

Piecing together exactly what happened is another goal, the attorneys said.

Investigators in the aftermath of the killing said Tunnell specifically targeted Harrison, after an earlier scuffle in the store’s foyer. Fobbs, however, said her son and Tunnell had no interaction prior to the stabbing.

“That was one of the false things that Macy’s put out there, that Eric came in contact with him that day, or he stopped him for those hats,” she said.

Macy's stabbing
Eric Harris is pictured with his mother, Dawn Fobbs.Zajac & Padilla Law Firm

Tunnell was apprehended after SEPTA transit police tracked him as he allegedly entered 13th Street Station, discarded his knife and boarded an eastbound Market-Frankford Line train, according to authorities. Officers arrested him at a stop in Kensington.

“My son and I used to have great conversations and a great connection,” Harrison’s father, Eric Coates, said. “Every weekend, we talked about sports, and now it’s hard for me to even watch sports.”