David Harris is the franchise owner of many Smithfield’s Chicken and Barbeques, as well as the one located off of Jones Sausage Rd., in Raleigh, North Carolina. As such, he’s authorized his restaurant to give a 25 percent discount to all uniformed police officers who frequent his restaurant, which now has dozens of locations across the state.
But he might be rethinking his generosity after the way he was treated this week by the Raleigh Police Protective Association (RPPA) and others — actions which he says emotionally devastated him, and nearly ruined his 20-year reputation of delivering high-quality food to satisfied customers.
It all started a week ago, when a couple of patrolmen came to take advantage of the discount they receive for being cops. The two men entered, ordered and ate. However, before they left, they complained to the manager that one of the employees had offended them.
According to Harris’ high-profile attorney Mark O’Mara (who happens to have represented George Zimmerman), the officer told the manager he’d seen the employee mouth the words, “Fuck the Police.” The term was made famous by the rap group NWA. From there, the situation, one could say, got far out of hand.
According to O’Mara, the officer then told a detective and others, and soon the progression of the “telephone game” got out of hand. The Raleigh Police Protective Association, which may be responsible for the majority of the confusion, issued the following statement on Facebook.
They claimed employees were actually singing the NWA song, even the manager, and chided the restaurant for its “class and professionalism.” The only problem with their accusation, which has since been removed, is that it never happened. Yes. That’s right. It never took place.
After the RPPA posted their condemnation of the “fake news” incident, the restaurant reported they were getting hate mail, harassing phone calls, racist comments directed to its employees as well as threats of physical harm. The news went viral, even making headlines on FoxNews who said Harris promised to fire any employee who didn’t respect law enforcement.
Even evangelist Franklin Graham got in on the action with a post of his own, condemning the employee’s actions in a Facebook post saying;
But since hiring O’Mara, whose team conducted a thorough investigation of the incident — using video footage and interviewing employees, patrons, as well as the officers involved — the truth has now emerged. The high-profile attorney then joined Harris and addressed reporters at a press conference outside the restaurant.
According to O’Mara, not only was no one in the restaurant singing the famous rap song, but the employee was some 25 feet away working at the hush puppy machine in the kitchen when the alleged incident took place. In fact, according to O’Mara, no one in the restaurant, neither patrons nor employees, heard anyone singing any song or say anything derogatory to the officer. It does appear, however, that the officer has extraordinary abilities to read lips from so far away.
Still, the officer said he saw the employee mouth the words but didn’t speak to him directly. Apparently, the insulted officers weren’t offended enough to return their food to the manager, because the video shows them sitting down, eating, engaging in conversation and, before leaving, addressing their concerns with the manager.
O’Mara said his team spoke with the employee, who decided to resign. While he didn’t admit to saying what the officers believed he said, he felt as though he’d done something “stupid” by bringing a lot of unnecessary attention to his place of work.
The Free Thought Project contacted the restaurant directly, and while no one would comment, they did confirm that they give all officers a 25 percent discount on food.
After learning the truth in the case, a rare admission from the leader of a large metropolitan law enforcement agency took place. Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown issued the following statement, setting the record straight.
Deck-Brown stopped short of blaming the RPPA, instead simply saying the original reporting was wrong. For their part, the RPPA isn’t apologizing, although it was their post which set off the firestorm of controversy, racist threats and senseless hate.
Last Friday, we shared a post on our Facebook page about Smithfields Chicken and BBQ. There was an investigation conducted and while there were inappropriate comments made by an employee of the restaurant, not all the information in the post was accurate.
Smithfields has taken all the appropriate steps to deal with the manager involved and our organization appreciates Smithfields proper investigation and swift action on dealing with the employee.
We have spoken with the owner personally and know he is a strong supporter of our police officers. We believe the issue is resolved and encourage our police officers and members to continue to dine at Smithfields Chicken and BBQ.
That post immediately drew outrage from those who were originally up in arms over the incident, and who’d expressed their own outrage that a police officer would be treated so indignantly. They had their own choice words for the RPPA, the ones who started the firestorm in the first place.
John Bischof responded to the RPPA’s Facebook post, saying, “You guys should go look at what you originally posted, then go look at all the other posts across the internet about it, and then seriously go rewrite your apology to Mr Harris and all the other employees of Smithfields. And you might also talk to a lawyer in case Mr Harris decides he is owed some compensation for this.” Others weren’t so gentlemanly.
Sarah Sydney wrote, “You’re seriously not even going to apologize to the owner and his employees? The reason police are losing credibility is because of this kind of BS – you LIED. Own it. If I were the owner, I’d sue you for slander, and I would have a case. This made national news, and your irresponsible post caused unnecessary damage to this restaurant’s reputation. You’re a completely disgraceful organization. We demand public apologies, in person, to all those you have wrongly painted in a bad light.”
We spoke with Mark O’Mara directly, who stated his client wants to mend fences with the police and restore the decades-long trust he has with law enforcement. He said he is also going to help his employee find a good job elsewhere.
O’Mara told us that social media is to blame for the controversy and that “All of us should know better” when it comes to tweeting and re-tweeting things we aren’t sure are true or not.