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Spit Happens: Police In Uniform Are Leery Of Fast-Food Places

News ArchiveSubmitted by Chuck0:

Spit Happens: Police In Uniform Are Leery Of Fast-Food Places --- The Secret
Sauce Could Have Something in It for Them, Something Not Very Nice

Wall Street Journal; New York, N.Y.; May 23, 2001; By Jennifer Ordonez

Hours into a long Sunday shift, Chris T. Phillips, a North Carolina highway
patrolman, was looking forward to his order of Taco Bell nachos. Pulling
away from the drive-through window, he shoveled into his mouth a mound of
meat and cheese. Then, he noticed something.

"It was clear and slimy in appearance," Sgt. Phillips recalls.

Dangling from a chip, state lab tests later confirmed, was phlegm. Sgt.
Phillips said that an employee who was fired after the incident had
complained of being harassed by police about his skateboarding. Amy
Sherwood, spokesman for Tricon Global Restaurants, which owns Taco Bell,
declines to comment other than to say the company "has the highest
admiration and respect for the work of police officers," who are always
welcome to eat at its restaurants.

Now, nearly four years later, it is hard for Sgt. Phillips to stomach fast
food. "You realize that people will do that to you, and eating is just never
the same."

The docket of food-tampering cases with police as victims is growing, and
many officers say that they think twice about ordering fast food while in
uniform. Some blame the teenagers fast-food places hire to do jobs that
don't pay well and are hard to fill. Others cite antipolice sentiment in the
general public. "It's consistent with the erosion of respect for authority
figures," says Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order
of Police.

Even the most vigilant restaurant managers can't watch their kitchen help
all the time. And in the billions of fast-food meals dished out every year
without incident, spit is hard to spot.

Some police officers bring their own lunches or go to cafeterias, where the
food is served up in plain sight. The Oro Valley, Ariz., Police Department
distributes occasional memos warning officers about food places in the
vicinity where food contamination might be more likely to occur because they
employ people known to have been arrested or to have been suspects in
criminal cases. "I just say, `Listen, be careful, we've seen a lot of people
working [at that restaurant] that we've dealt with,' " says Detective Herb

Contamination isn't limited to spit. The meat patty that an employee at a
Burger King restaurant gave to a sheriff's deputy in Rochester, N.Y., last
year allegedly was tainted with urine and oven cleaner. The man's lawyer,
Robert Brenna Jr., says he became "violently ill."

So, the alleged victim, Monroe County Sheriff's Deputy Gamaliel Dominguez
and his wife last month filed a $13.5 million civil lawsuit against Burger
King, its franchisee and two of its employees. Criminal charges were filed
against two workers Burger King fired in response to the allegation. One,
Daniel P. Musson, then 18, pleaded guilty to tampering with consumer
products and will be sentenced next month. The other, Scott B. Savino, then
20, was indicted on two counts of assault and two counts of tampering. He
goes to trial May 29, and if convicted on all counts could be sentenced to
seven years in state prison.

Burger King, a unit of Diageo PLC, said it hadn't been notified of the suit
and declined to comment further.

In January, a police officer got a breakfast Taquito spiked with marijuana
from a Dallas-area Whataburger restaurant. Corpus Christi, Tex.-based
Whataburger says it fired the employee charged with the crime and is
cooperating fully in prosecuting him. "Action was swift," said a spokesman.
In Beaver Dam, Wis., a police sergeant whose mouth started burning as he ate
a chalupa from Taco Bell had it analyzed and was told that it was laced with
a sink sanitizer, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case. A
spokesperson in Louisville, Ky., for Tricon says the company cannot
specifically comment on any of the Taco Bell cases.

James Yonkie, a 21-year-old fast-food veteran, and a co-worker were charged
in Dodge County, Wis., circuit court last year for allegedly contaminating
the chalupa with sink cleaner. In March, Mr. Yonkie pleaded no contest to
disorderly conduct. In addition to the 40 hours of community service he must
serve as a condition of his court agreement, Mr. Yonkie must tell all future
fast-food employers about the incident. As a condition of his plea
agreement, he must testify in the pending criminal trial of Keith
Williamson, his former best friend and Taco Bell co-worker. Mr. Williamson
is charged with "placing foreign objects in an edible."

In an interview, Mr. Yonkie, who maintains his innocence, says he despises
such acts. Nonetheless, he concedes he understands how a patrol car in the
drive-through lane might induce mischief among some fast-food workers with a
distaste for authority. "It's like, `Oh, yeah, you think you're so big?

Well, then I'm going to show you,' " Mr. Yonkie says, adding that for those
in the fast-food industry, such people "give us all a bad name."

In some states, officers who find somebody else's saliva in their food have
been surprised to learn that it isn't always a crime. Even after state lab
tests confirmed the presence of spit on Officer Phillips's nachos, there
were no charges because no criminal statute in North Carolina prohibits
spitting on food.

But in Ohio, a 15-year-old former McDonald's drive-through-window clerk now
faces delinquency charges of contaminating a substance for human consumption
because he allegedly spit in a police officer's soft drink in February. It's
a felony if he is found to carry a communicable disease that he knew about,
a misdemeanor if he doesn't. His case is scheduled for a juvenile-court
hearing on Friday in Franklin County, Ohio. The officer became aware of the
problem only after he had consumed the drink and noticed a slimy residue on
the cup. McDonald's Corp. says it doesn't tolerate such antics. The teenager
was fired immediately.

Police officers, who often eat free of charge at fast-food restaurants, are
especially valued customers because they lend a sense of security to an
industry that keeps late hours and lots of cash on hand. "I want them in my
restaurants to help keep them safe. It's critical," says David Bear, a
McDonald's franchisee in the suburbs of Chicago.

After pulling away from a Checkers restaurant, Jeff Bousquet, a Pasco
County, Fla., school resource officer, noticed a suspicious hand-drawn pig
and the words "oink, oink" on his bag of food. Checking his burger, he
thought he found spit and notified the company. The burger was never tested;
Checkers denies the allegation of food tampering and says it has videotape
of the food being prepared as well as the creation of the artwork. The
17-year-old boy, a student at the high school Officer Bousquet patrolled,
was fired. Checkers apologized to the officer and offered him a small,
undisclosed monetary settlement, which he accepted.

Perpetrators often give themselves away. It was the Burger King worker's
behavior that tipped off Indiana State Trooper Dan Jones. " `Enjoy' was all
he said," recalls Officer Jones. "He had a real stupid grin on his face,
like a deviant kind of grin that said `I just spit on your sandwich.' "
So Trooper Jones checked. Beneath the bun of his chicken club sandwich was a
pool of spit approximately an inch in diameter, he said. He promptly
informed all employees in the restaurant that they were under investigation
for consumer-product tampering. He sent the burger to a state lab for DNA
testing, and a judge issued a court warrant to take blood samples from three
kitchen employees who worked that night.

As it turned out, the saliva belonged to a 16-year-old grill cook who was
fired and sentenced to 40 hours of community service. Trooper Jones
eventually got a written apology from the boy.

Meanwhile, Trooper Jones's superior, Lt. J.C. Linegar, sent an e-mail
alerting other police in the area about the incident. In turn, the
restaurant owner, Midwest Food Co., filed a legal notice with the state
alleging that the Indiana State police "slandered the reputation" of the
company because the lab test had yet to be completed and that its franchisee
had suffered an extensive loss of business. The company now has no plans to
file suit. Burger King says it urged the franchisee not to take legal
action. "There was a breakdown somewhere in our process," says Kim Miller, a
Burger King spokeswoman. "It's a very damaging mark to our brand."

In Oro Valley, two former Burger King employees served 30 days in jail after
pleading guilty to aggravated assault for spitting on a burger served to a
police officer. Test results later found that both individuals had been
exposed to hepatitis, says Detective Williams, who investigated the case.
Burger King says it has no record of the incident.

Although the officer "got sick to his stomach," he has not contracted
hepatitis, Detective Williams says.

Credit: Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

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