The Black truckers who were denied service at a South Dakota Denny’s and had the police called on them said they are pursuing legal action against the restaurant.
At a virtual press conference on Monday, Sept. 18, Harry Daniels, the attorney for Damon Whitfield and Hector Madera, said the incident could’ve ended tragically. He likened the incident to discrimination of the likes of the Jim Crow era.
“We need to send a message to Denny’s… that you’re not going to treat a person… and discriminate against them based on the color of their skin or treat them inhumanely just because you don’t like the way they look or the way they talk,” Daniels said.
He continued,” We are thankful that Damon and Hector are here today. And thank God that the Sioux Falls Police Department was professional, cordial, and spoke to them and let them know that they apologize. But it could’ve ended deadly.”
Madera and Whitfield said last month’s encounter had taken a toll on them. The two made a pit stop to shower and grab a bite to eat at the Sioux Falls Denny’s on Aug. 13 when a waitress told them that they wouldn’t be served and told them they could leave.
At the press conference, Whitfield said he initially didn’t think anything was wrong while sitting and reading the menu at the restaurant. He said things changed when Madera told the waitress that they were ready to place an order, and she accused them of yelling at her.
“She goes, ‘I don’t need you people calling me over to this table,” Whitfield recalled. He said Madera mentioned that she was serving other people in the restaurant who came in after them, to which she responded, “Well, you know what? I’m not serving you people. As a matter of fact, you can get your stuff and go now, or I’m calling the cops.”
According to Whitfield, she then snatched the menus and orange juice off the table before storming off. He said that Madera tried apologizing and diffusing the situation, but she reiterated that she wanted them to leave. That’s when Whitfield attempted to get another server to take their order, as seen in the incident video. She “doubled down” on the message from the first waitress, their attorney said.
When cops arrived, the truckers said they approached them and walked them outside. They explained their side of the story and then received an apology from one of the officers. Madera added that he was humiliated and embarrassed when he was escorted out of the restaurant without help from bystanders, stating that he had to walk “with his head down” and didn’t want to show any signs of resistance.
“That’s a real concern for individuals like us when constantly you see that the police are weaponized,” Madera said, in reaction to police asking them to step outside. “Police are there to help, serve, and protect, and in some instances, things go left real quick, and thankfully that’s not the story.”
In a 911 audio released by attorneys last week, the regional manager, Mike Fletcher, who wasn’t at the location at the time, described the truckers as “unruly,” “confrontational,” and “argumentative.” Denny’s released a statement and announced that the waitress, the manager’s wife, had been terminated.
Another employee who helped the truckers was fired from the restaurant, according to the attorneys.
“Every time we’re on the road, and we see a Denny’s sign, we keep reliving this whole ordeal in our head,” said Whitfield.
According to Daniels, a lawsuit is underway.
“What we’re hoping by the end of all of this is that Denny’s will reach out and make some meaningful change,” attorney Erica Wilson, who also represents the truckers, said. “This is the opportunity for Denny’s to be the poster child of how to get it right.”