by Kelsey Hamlin
(Updated 1/24/18 at 6:22pm)
Teddy Avestruz was walking along Beacon Avenue on Wednesday, January 17, when he saw a black, teenage boy being held down on the pavement in front of the Hilltop Red Apple by five people wearing the store’s uniform. The store’s general manager accused the boy of shoplifting in a later interview. Avestruz, who says that he was angered and upset about the incident, stopped to film it.
Avestruz’s video of the incident shows that five people wearing Red Apple shirts surrounded the boy in front of the grocery store. The employees take the youth by the arms, and attempt to lead him back into the store when he tried to escape. After the employees grab him, the boy continues to try and get away. He slips on the wet pavement and falls on his back. A middle aged, white man wearing a Red Apple shirt rolls the boy face down to the pavement. The man uses his elbow to pin the boy to the ground.
Another video, by Facebook user Abbdi Hamdi, which seems to document the incident a few minutes later, shows the boy pinned to the ground by the middle aged white man with the Red Apple shirt. The man is holding the boy on the pavement directly in front of the supermarket’s automatic doors. The boy’s arm is pinned behind his back at an unnatural angle. The boy is convulsing and appears to be in pain. At the end of Hamdi’s video, the boy’s t-shirt has come off entirely.
At various points of the video, the boy seems to shout: “Let me go! What the hell! You’re hurting me!” When he is not shouting, the boy seems to have trouble breathing.
A crowd of passersby gathered around the commotion. Some can be seen filming in Avestruz’s video. Some approached the altercation. Several bystanders talked with people wearing Red Apple shirts, and some shouted at the man holding down the boy.
Both of the men who filmed the incident were upset.
“This truly was traumatizing for me,” Avestruz said. “I can’t imagine how it was for the victim.”
“They were saying he took some food or something like that,” Habddi wrote in a post that accompanied his Facebook video. “I was walking my two sons and did not want to stay longer, because it might frighten my kids. I found how some people handle certain situations are disgusting and frightening.”
The store’s general manager, Dean Hasegawa, declined to comment on the actions of his employees. Hasegawa saw the incident: he is visible at 1:14 in Hamddi’s video. Hasegawa, wearing glasses, appears in the left hand side of the screen.
“As a far as shoplifting goes, it happens every day,” Hasegawa said. Hasegawa said that, compared to the rest of his career, Wednesday’s incident was unusual. Hasegawa went on to imply that the boy escalated the incident into violence:
“[We were] dealing with a minor who was very dramatic in how things happened. Even after we detained him, he did some things in the back that was kind of amazing to do.”
Hasegawa did not explain what was “amazing” about the interaction in the store between employees and the boy, and did not explain what precipitated the altercation. Hasegawa said he was frustrated by the response to the incident on social media.
“It’s too bad that things like social media bring this kind of attention to a local neighborhood store that tries to do everything correctly,” Hasegawa said. “This is not what I got into this business for. I’m here to do community good and sell groceries.”
According to Hasegawa, Red Apple employees detained the boy until police arrived. Hasegawa did not say whether the boy was arrested or charged with a crime.
As BombCo media first reported, according to the report, two youth were taken by Red Apple staff to the store after the youth were seen on video taking deli chicken without paying. The youth were observed eating all of the chicken. Red Apple staff were going to issue no-trespassing notices to both youth and call their parents. At one point the youth in the video claimed he was having a seizure. A bystander called police about the physical altercation in the parking lot.
It’s unclear if the altercation itself is on store video. According to the report, the youths admitted taking the chicken without paying. The youth seen in the video and pictures told the responding officer he was assaulted, including being choked until he could not breathe and that the physical altercation was initiated by the store employees. The responding officer was wearing a body camera at the time of the incident. According to the report the youth later admitted to taking the chicken without paying, and did not have a seizure.
The youths were trespassed from Red Apple, duration unknown. Neither of the youths involved were arrested or cited by Seattle Police.
Kelsey Hamlin is a freelance reporter with various Seattle publications. She graduated with interdisciplinary Honors, a B.A. in journalism and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice from the University of Washington. Hamlin served as President and VP for the UW’s Society of Professional Journalists over the past two years. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see more of her articles on her website.