Last week in Washington state, the Skagit County Sheriff's Office put a local Chinese restaurant on blast, declaring that law enforcement officers were no longer welcome at the restaurant. The sheriff's announcement, posted to social media, claims that the eatery's owner asked deputies not to eat there anymore.
But it turns out the whole thing might have been a misunderstanding due to a language barrier.
Chinese restaurant owner deluged with threats after sheriff wrongly accuses him of banning cops
On Thursday, the Skagit County Sheriff's Office's official Facebook page posted a status about an encounter that several officers reportedly had at the Lucky Teriyaki restaurant in Sedro-Woolley. The deputies claim the owner asked them to leave, saying they were no longer welcome there because they upset other customers. So of course, the most responsible course of action for a law enforcement agency in this situation: publicly blast the business on Facebook. The Sheriff's post effectively called for a public boycott of the restaurant.
"I understand a business owner has a right to refuse service if he wants to," Sheriff Will Reichardt said. "I also understand that as customers we all have the right to find some other restaurant to take our lunch break in."
The sheriff's post was shared widely, prompting thousands of predictably racist responses. Local news ran with the story. Commenters not only said they'd no longer be dining at Lucky Teriyaki, but also insinuated the business might be vandalized or burglarized -- with cops nowhere in sight to help. The restaurant says they've received dozens of death threats and other harassing phone calls since the sheriff posted his complaint.
But did all this happen because of a language barrier?
KIRO 7's Natasha Chen, who speaks Mandarin, spoke to Lucky Teriyaki owner Michael Li to clarify what happened. He and his son say the restaurant was not trying to ban law enforcement, and the whole issue was the result of a huge misunderstanding due to their limited English skills.
The incident was set off when the deputies were seated near another group of diners who appeared to be agitated and argumentative. When the officers got up to pay, Li's son asked them something to the effect of "Are you leaving now?" That's apparently when the misunderstanding occurred.
Li's son was the one who interacted with the deputies and answered the chief deputy's call.
Li told Natasha Chen that his son had not slept the night before, because he was taking care of his newborn child. Li said that Thursday morning, he even questioned whether his son should be working at all.
He said he did not anticipate that his son's lack of focus and attention would result in his saying the wrong thing and creating such a problem.
Li told Chen: While the Skagit County deputies were eating lunch in the restaurant Thursday, a group nearby spilled soup and their drinks, and seemed agitated and argumentative.
Li said, "[The deputies] were standing up to pay. My son said the extra bit about, 'are you leaving now?' He was concerned. The way he said it – perhaps in the wrong tone in English – was not right."
Later, when the Sheriff's Office called the restaurant, the son told KIRO 7 he didn't understand, and he answered, "OK," to the chief deputy's inquiries, not grasping the gravity of what was about to happen.
On Friday, Li and his son went to the Sheriff's Office to apologize for the misunderstanding. The Skagit County Sheriff's Office Facebook page was updated with a post expressing that the matter had been "resolved to our satisfaction" and encouraged the community to patronize Lucky Teriyaki.
Lucky Teriyaki is even offering complimentary meals to make up for the incident -- all law enforcement officers will eat free on Monday. But let's face it: the damage has been done. Lucky Teriyaki has taken a hit.
I'm not even entirely convinced that this was a pure case of a language barrier. Maybe the son really does have something against cops -- it would not be out of the question -- and actually said something quite unwelcoming to the officers, and perhaps is now backpedaling because of the unforeseen magnitude of the backlash.
Even if that's the case, was it appropriate for the Skagit County Sheriff's Office, a law enforcement agency, to take to Facebook, publicly blast Lucky Teriyaki and hang this business out to dry? Was this a matter of public safety or service? Because it feels like an incredibly irresponsible move that could potentially lead to reduced business, hate crimes, vandalism and other crimes. Hell, it's already happening. They had to be aware that a social media posting like that could have this effect.
And meanwhile, two unrelated, unaffiliated, unfranchised, entirely different teriyaki joints in Tacoma and Everett -- both also called "Lucky Teriyaki" -- are feeling the residual backlash from the hate directed at the restaurant in Sedro-Woolley. Because people are morons.
More here: Multiple WA teriyaki shops deluged with hate after sheriff wrongly accuses one of banning cops