The former Applebee's manager who was in charge the evening a Kenosha police officer was seen on video striking a Black man mistakenly believed to be a hit-and-run suspect has been fired.
Jennifer Harris, who said she worked at the restaurant for more than 10 years, told the Journal Sentinel she believes she was wrongly fired. She added that she was disturbed by the police officers' conduct during the incident.
Her attorney William Sulton said he will pursue all "legal remedies" if Applebee's doesn't restore Harris' employment.
"I put a lot of heart and passion into that job and that company," Harris said. "I feel like I've been done wrong, instead of getting support from my employer for handling the situation."
The incident took place July 20 at the Applebee's off Highway 50 in Kenosha.
Video posted to social media shows a Black man from Illinois holding a baby and being forcefully taken into custody, although he had nothing to do with the crash that happened moments before the arrest. Police would later find the people believed to be responsible for the hit-and-run in the bathroom of the restaurant.
Harris said she asked human resources on July 21 if she needed to fill out any forms or incident reports and was told no. But when the video became widely available to the public on Aug. 4, Harris was told she and her employees needed to provide statements.
Three days later, Harris said she was informed she was fired and that the company said it was her fault that employees shared videos of the incident to social media.
An email to an Applebee's HR representative was not immediately returned on Saturday.
Ex-manager describes disturbing incident, police respond
According to Harris, Kenosha police arrived at Applebee's shortly after 11 p.m. and asked a server if anyone entered the restaurant matching the description given by witnesses at the crash — two Black males and a Black female holding a baby.
The server said they didn't see anyone enter with that description, and Kenosha police departed the restaurant, according to Harris.
However, the server then shared with Harris that she noticed a Black couple with a baby eating dinner and asked Harris if she thought they were who police were looking for. Out of an abundance of concern for the baby, Harris said she made the decision to call police back to the restaurant.
When police returned, they approached the Black diners — Jermelle English Jr. and Shanya Boyd — and began questioning the couple after being the only diners left in the restaurant, Harris said.
Harris said surveillance video later showed the suspects from the hit-and-run entering through a side door while no employees were present, then entering the bathroom.
Harris said police asked the couple to show which car they arrived in, to which English responded that he had nothing to do with the crash. He then picked up his baby and proceeded to walk away from the officers, she said.
"(English) was like 'I'm here eating with my family. We've been here. It can't be us that you're looking for so excuse me, I need to go change my son's diaper,'" Harris said.
According to Harris, police insisted that English was not free to leave. Harris said English then asked the officers if he was being arrested, to which officers said no, but said that he was being detained until he answered the officers' questions. English responded that he had already answered the questions by stating he had nothing to do with the crash, Harris said.
English then continued to walk away as an officer followed him, she said.
"(English) kind of started running," Harris said. "Then they ran after him and they slammed him into the wall with the baby in his arms."
Harris added: "The baby hit his head on the wall. And then another cop tackles him so now there's two cops tackling him on the ground with a child still in his arms."
Leo Viola, spokesperson with the Kenosha Police Department, said the officers had legal authority to detain English and restrain him while they conducted their investigation.
Viola denied the ex-manager's claim about the infant hitting his head on the wall. He said a paramedic checked and found that the baby was unharmed.
As the scuffle ensued, Harris said employees immediately started asking for cooler heads to prevail.
On the video, an officer is then seen repeatedly striking English, to which employees ask the officer to stop.
Throughout the frenzy, Harris said she assumed the role of taking care of the child when she noticed the baby was starting to hyperventilate. Harris said she was informed by officers that they had accidentally deployed pepper spray.
Harris said an officer then incorrectly stated that the department was called to the restaurant because English and Boyd were fighting.
"We never said anything about fighting," Harris said. "So at that point, once we started telling the cops they're lying and (asking) why are they lying, they then threatened to arrest all of us."
In response, Viola acknowledged that pepper spray was deployed but said the child was not "directly" exposed. Viola did not directly address whether or not an officer accused the couple of fighting.
"The amount of disinformation being spread about this incident is pretty alarming," Viola wrote in an email. "The investigation when complete will answer these questions."
Prior to leaving the scene, Harris said police then reviewed security camera footage. Employees then recorded security camera footage on their cellphones, according to Harris.
"I got fired because I allowed that to get out to social media," Harris said.
Harris said she repeatedly attempted to call the general manager that evening, but no one answered.
"I didn't know what steps to take," she said. "They don't train you for situations like this."
Harris said she feels terrible about the incident and she wants justice for the couple.
What will happen next?
The Kenosha County District Attorney charged English and Boyd with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing an officer. Boyd also received a possession of marijuana charge.
English and Boyd both plead not guilty to their charges earlier this week. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Aug. 25. A message to their attorney was not immediately returned on Saturday.
Kenosha police have launched an internal investigation into the incident.
Sulton, Harris' attorney, is also board president of the ACLU of Wisconsin, which issued a joint statement on Friday along with other community groups criticizing the police officers' actions.
"Too often, Black and Brown people suffer violence at the hands of police. It’s devastating to see police – again and again – treat Black lives with such callous disregard. It’s tragic that a Black person simply trying to enjoy a meal with his family is automatically seen as suspicious and that officers feel free to behave recklessly, violently, and unjustifiably, even toward a man holding a baby."
"We are calling for answers and accountability," Sulton added.
Drake Bentley can be reached at DBentley1@gannett.com.