Java Cow's Hispanic Employees Harassed by Customers

Mar 9, 2017

Credit KPCW

On Saturday, March 4, a group of customers at Java Cow got into an argument with some Hispanic employees.   The customers were upset at how an American flag was displayed in the store.  One employee says he was physically assaulted.  

The on-duty manager that night says he heard a customer berating one of the employees around 9:30pm .  "This guy came in and started like telling things to my coworkers that are also Mexicans.  So he was really upset,"  said the manager, who asked that his name not be included in this story.   He says the customer was mad about an American flag displayed in the store.  Rebecca Williams is the General Manager of Java Cow.  She said the flag was unintentionally upside down.  "We had a little Fourth of July flag  that was held by a single magnet on the side of the freezer," she said.  "It slid down because it was too heavy for the magnet.  Didn't think anything of it.  It was just something laying around after Fourth of July.  Leo slid it back up.  It had just fallen and he slid it back up." 

When someone flies an American flag upside down, it's considered a sign of distress, like an SOS signal. The manager said the group of three men and three women, who appeared to be in their late forties or early fifties, were offended by it.  Williams, who wasn't there to see the confrontation, but saw video of it, describes what happened.  "This woman started going on a tirade and asking 'Who moved the flag?'  Leo said, 'I did it.'  He didn't understand that it was upside down.  Nobody noticed it was upside down because immediately the other staff took it down and just got it out of here.  Leo  immediately was trying to apologize."

But the group continued their verbal assault on the 15-year-old employee, says Williams.  "They were telling Leo they hope his family goes back to Mexico and dies.  They should get deported.  I mean, just the most hateful things you could possibly say." 

The manager said the tirade lasted seven to ten minutes.  He said he asked them to leave, and if they didn't, he would call the police.  He said that made the group laugh.  "They were like, 'Call the police, yeah.  I'm okay with that.'  They were laughing."  Williams added, "And that's when they said they are officers.  They did not say local, and we didn't hear anything back about what department or where or if they were just guys on vacation that said they were officers.  But they told multiple staff members that they were officers.  And they flashed one customer, he has some video of it, they flashed him a badge as well."

Then, the manager says, one of the men pushed him down, and threw his ice cream at him.  He called Williams to tell her what happened.  She said she got to the store minutes later.  She says she wishes she had been there sooner, and her staff is still pretty shaken up about the incident.  "These are some of my best staff members and some of the hardest working people that I know and to physically touch and scream at a 15-year-old kid that they hope his family dies.  It's just, it's absurd," said Williams.

Park City Police confirmed they did respond to the incident.  And the manager says he feels they took the incident seriously.  Both he and Williams say they saw officers going up and down the street looking for the perpetrators.  The manager says he would press charges if they are found.  And he adds nothing like this has happened to him in the past five years he's worked at Java Cow.  "I feel pretty sad right now because what if those things can happen again, anywhere," he said.

Anna Thomas, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said her group has seen an increase in incidents like this both in Utah and across the nation in the last few months.