Body cam footage shows Waffle House takeout order gone wrong
A couple who disagreed with charges on their Waffle House bill had Tasers pointed at them and were placed in handcuffs before the incident was resolved, a police cam video shows.
The incident occurred May 2 at a Waffle House in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Cellphone video taken by the couple and body cam footage from a police officer have been viewed thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter, leading to calls to boycott Waffle House.
Meanwhile, the police department says it wants to "set the record straight."
Both videos show the incident after a dispute had begun between the couple — identified in a Fort Walton Beach police event report as (Donald) Copeland and Ms. Hart — and unidentified employees of Waffle House.
The couple had placed a to-go order at Waffle House about 1 a.m., but when they were given their bill, they disagreed with some of the charges, according to the videos.
No food had arrived, but a glass of orange juice was served, which became the center of the initial dispute between the couple and Waffle House employees, according to the police report.
The couple said the menu listed the price of the orange juice at $1, but they were charged $2.50 for the drink on their bill. They argued the charge, and refused to pay the additional $1.50, according to the video.
While the couple tried to call a corporate 1-800 number to dispute the charge, Waffle House employees called the police, saying the man was "being irate screaming and cussing," according to the police report.
An employee later told police that the $1 price is charged only after another beverage is purchased, adding that the couple got only a glass of water, according to the body cam footage. The employee said water did not count as another drink and that he wanted to press charges against the couple if they did not pay the $2.50 charge.
When police arrived at the Waffle House, the officer wearing a body cam said "c'mere, c'mon" as he stuck out his arm and wagged his finger in the direction of Copeland, who was talking to someone on a cellphone, video shows.
Copeland can be heard saying in the video something about putting "your hands on me," prompting the officer to say, "Oh I'm gonna put my hands on you, get out here!"
After some verbal exchanges between officers and the couple, a Waffle House employee can be heard saying, "They need to pay for their food."
"We ordered our food, we're waiting for them to charge us right," Hart responded, the video shows.
The body cam video shows exchanges continuing between police and the couple for nearly 30 minutes.
At one point, the officer wearing the body cam said: "OK, then he should come out here and talk to me like a man."
That's when Copeland turned his attention to the officer, walked in the officer's direction, and said "You're the one who ran up," before being cut off by the officer, who said "back up."
Hart later said that the other officer, out of view of the camera, pulled out a Taser as Copeland approached.
After officers' repeated requests to leave the Waffle House, Copeland began recording the incident on his cellphone before handing it to Hart to document as he walked out of the restaurant with his hands raised over his head.
As Hart exited the restaurant, she said to police, "We'll wait to you finish" before they would resolve the disputed charge with Waffle House.
"Oh, we're done," the officer responds in the video. "You pay your bill, we're done."
As exchanges continued, one officer tells Copeland: "If you don't pay your bill you're going to jail."
In the video, the same officer also asked employees inside the Waffle House if they wanted to press charges, then he removed handcuffs from his belt and took out his Taser, pointing it at Copeland from a few feet away. Copeland was handcuffed and put in the back seat of a patrol car.
Hart started crying after she was also handcuffed, the video shows.
"I didn't do nothing wrong," a sobbing Hart can be heard saying as she was pressed against the side of a patrol car.
After being told they committed a crime by not paying their bill, the video shows Hart saying: "We didn't get no food or nothing in front of us. We didn't get nothing from them, nothing at all. We haven't been served at all. We haven't been served so how is it theft. We asked her to explain the bill to us, she gave us no food or nothing and called you guys."
The couple was released after they agreed to pay the bill and to not return to that Waffle House again, the police report confirmed. The report added: "The subjects were later provided the opportunity to pay for their order, which they accepted. Therefore, (they) were released without criminal charges."
While Hart paid the bill, the video shows the second officer telling Copeland "I'm doing you a favor by not taking you to jail right now."
The footage ends with Copeland and Hart walking away with their food.
Videos of the incident led to an outcry on social media.
National columnist and social activist Shaun King shared the story on his Twitter account, saying: "This couple didn't deserve any of this & @WaffleHouse still deserves to be held accountable."
South Carolina native Mike Colter retweeted King — and called for a boycott.
"Stay out of the nasty waffle house people!" tweeted Colter, who plays the Marvel comic book hero of Netflix's "Luke Cage." The tweet continues: "The food and the locations are foul and now the allow police to behave this way toward patrons #boycottwafflehouse."
One website, carbonated.tv, said police "treated the black couple like criminals upon arrival."
The Fort Walton Beach Police Department is standing by its officers' response to the call.
"We feel it is important to set the record straight," the department posted to Facebook, in response to the cellphone video on the incident being shared on social media.
The post continues: "The Fort Walton Beach Police Department conducted a full review of the incident and the actions our officers took that evening ... our officers followed proper protocol when dealing with violations involving Florida State Statues."
The police department added that "while there was no misconduct of the officers, that the situation could have been handled differently by both parties involved."