Renewed criticism is emerging for Houston’s in Atlanta as three actresses say they were wrongfully arrested and attacked at the Peachtree Road restaurant after using the restroom.
The Atlanta Police Department is investigating whether an off-duty officer working security at the restaurant used excessive force, the agency told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday.
Gerald Griggs, an attorney representing the women, said they asked for and were given permission to use the restroom. They were in the process of leaving when the officer escalated the situation, Griggs said.
The incident is the latest in recent months to lead to accusations of mistreatment of black people at the restaurant chain. The allegations led to calls for a boycott, including from Atlanta rapper T.I., who eventually met with the company and announced that he approved of a plan to address the concerns.
“Absolutely unacceptable behavior!!!!,” he wrote Tuesday on Instagram, renewing his complaints about the chain.
The restaurant said in a statement that it is cooperating with Atlanta police on the investigation. The statement also said that the women were asked multiple times to leave by employees because the restaurant was closed.
Griggs told the AJC the women’s displeasure is with the restaurant as well as the off-duty officer.
Brittany Lucio, Asia'h Epperson and Erica Walker, who described themselves as actresses, went to the restaurant on May 13, Mother’s Day, after attending an event nearby.
What happened next is in dispute.
The police report, which Griggs believes contains inaccuracies, said they went into the restroom at 10:26 p.m. and twice refused to leave before an employee asked Officer Jose Guzman to intervene. The restaurant closes at 10 p.m.
At 10:39 p.m., Guzman had a female employee open the door in case the women were using the toilet, the report said. He asked them to leave multiple times, but they ignored him.
The officer had a worker open the restaurant’s back door. Guzman said he grabbed Lucio’s wrist and said, “Let’s go,” but she told him not to touch her and still refused to leave.
Walker walked out of the restaurant.
Guzman said Lucio punched him in the head. Once outside, he held Lucio and Walker to the ground while Epperson filmed with her phone before more police arrived and the women were arrested.
Griggs said the video and his clients’ statements don’t fit with the officer’s report.
First, the attorney emphasized, that despite the stated hours, the restaurant was not closed when the women arrived; it was a “full house.”
They had been in the restroom 10 minutes or less when staff asked them to leave. The women said they would finish up in the restroom and leave.
“Next thing they know the police officer comes in,” Griggs said.
While the officer complained in the report of small lacerations on his face, Griggs said Lucio and Walker had markings on their bodies to prove they were attacked by the officer.
The women were each charged with trespassing, and Lucio was also accused of obstruction.
Griggs said he’s contacted the offices of the district attorney and solicitor to request that the charges be dismissed. He called for the officer to be placed on unpaid leave while the police department investigates the situation.
The police department said it will review “all aspects” of the incident.
“The Atlanta Police Department is aware of the excessive force accusations made by the arrestees and the Office of Professional Standards has opened an investigation into entire incident for appropriate action and whether proper procedures were followed, the agency said in a statement.
Griggs has been in touch with the legal team at Houston’s in hopes of setting up new meetings to discuss what he said appears to be a “climate” of racial mistreatment at the restaurant.
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