Sherri Williams was cited by the police because she tried to use the restroom at McDonald's at Olive and highway 99 in Fresno. Williams and her husband Al are regular customers at McDonald's. They're homeless and she uses a wheelchair. Al bought a cup of coffee and Sherri headed to the restroom. That is when McDonald's manager Michelle Torres said "I need you to go, you're not purchasing anything." Al said that Sherri needed to use the restroom and after that she would buy something. Torres went to summons a police officer.
The officer arrived and said that "this is a private restaurant and they can refuse service to anybody." Al pointed out that they can only refuse service if they have a reason. The officer said if she does not leave "she is going to be arrested."
Sherri was taken outside and given a citation - PC 602.1 for "Interfering with Business" by officer D.J. Onruh that demands she show up in criminal court on September 5. Sherri and Al believe that they are being discriminated against because they are homeless and Sherri is in a wheelchair. In a previous letter Sherri sent to McDonald's, she wrote about an earlier incident where there was "no legal cause or justification to be escorted out of McDonalds by a Fresno City Police Officer."
Sherri wrote "I have been a regular patron of this location for several years and never have had regular customers make complaints about my use of the restroom nor harassed by Mc Donald staff. I may have left a slight mess when using the restroom but it is partly because of my health, limited condition and the inadequate dispenser in the women's restroom. The policies certainly violate the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to accommodating an individual with a disability."
My daughter and filmmaker Simone Whalen-Rhodes arrived with her video camera. Torres came out and said "I'm going to have to ask you to leave, you can not video on our property." Simone responded that she has a legal right to be there and refused to leave. I arrived, hearing Torres say "sir, you are not allowed to take pictures… and I'm asking you to leave." I replied that just because Torres didn't want me there does not revoke my rights as a journalist. Torres eventually went inside and the issue was dropped.
The police were now aware that this incident was being documented and decided not to arrest Sherri. Soon, a Sargeant and more officers arrived. The Sargeant asked for my identification and informed me that I could keep my photos and the video. This was tempered with a threat that they might get a court order to use them in a criminal proceeding. The officer told Sherri he was issuing the citation because she was "trespassing and interfering with the business." Sherri was finger printed and signed the citation.
It is outrageous that homeless and disabled people are being denied service at McDonalds. McDonald's response has not been to apologize or to say that they will provide restroom services for disabled and homeless people or any customer. It has been to send out corporate managers and go to businesses in the area to sign affidavits attacking Al and Sherri, saying they are disruptive and not welcome. Community people are not tolerating this injustice and came out to demonstrate at the McDonalds to defend Sherri's right to use the restroom.
For more on this story, go to http://indybay.org (Central Valley).