After barrage of one-star reviews, Cheapside Cafe defends calling police on homeless man

CINCINNATI -- Although police escorted a homeless man out of Downtown's Cheapside Cafe Tuesday without incident, a bystander's Facebook post ignited an online controversy that led to a fusillade of one-star reviews and accusations of racism from other social media users.

The cafe's owners said Thursday they have it all wrong, and Cincinnati police released body camera video to back them up.

"Like most stories, there is more than one side," Cheapside Cafe posted on Facebook. "Unfortunately, some people, who were clearly not aware of all the facts, started to form negative opinions about our business."

The viral Facebook post that sparked the one-star review crusade was made by Pamela Miller, a social worker who wrote she had watched cafe staff call police on a black homeless man who "wasn't bothering anyone or doing anything wrong, just resting and trying to survive the unbearable heat." She also claimed that officers who arrived to remove the man would not allow him to take a cup of water with him or talk to her about places to cool down in the dramatic heat "while the man was yelling that he did NOT know and wanted to speak to me."

"Shame on the police for not letting a social worker direct someone to a shelter, especially on a day where shelter and water can be the different between life and death," she wrote.

Users who saw her post leapt to the man's defense, many of them comparing the incident to one in which Starbucks workers called police on two black men while they waited for a friend inside.

"Way to be yet another racist, classist coffee shop that calls the cops on someone for simply being black and hanging out," one user wrote in a one-star review. "I will NEVER come here again. I wish I could rate you worse than one star."

Faced with the barrage of negative reviews, Cheapside Cafe posted its own account of the incident.

According to the restaurant's Facebook post, the man spent three hours inside, where he was repeatedly rude to servers and customers -- one of whom ordered a sandwich for him -- before falling asleep at his table. 

"Unfortunately, this is not the first time that we were forced to call the police for help in dealing with this man for verbally abusing our staff after being asked to leave because he was just hanging around and harassing our employees," the post said. "Other businesses in the area also had complaints about this man. The police told us that we should not attempt to confront him in any way and to call them and let them handle the situation, because it was not safe."

The body camera video released by Cincinnati police did not confirm anything prior to their arrival but refuted Miller's claim that officers were abusive toward the man or unwilling to let him take a drink of water as he left.

After entering and speaking with a cashier who says the man has been "really aggressive," they wake him up, ask him to leave and request servers prepare a to-go cup of water for him. Before the cup arrives, another patron -- Miller -- hands the man her water bottle. Officers thank her.

Outside the cafe, the officers inform the man  staff have asked him not to return. Miller calls out to him in an attempt to direct him to cooling centers nearby, and he responds: "Why? Why, ma'am?"

"Because it's hot out," she says. "I thought maybe you were in here because it's so hot."

The man is walking away by the time she finishes speaking.

Both Cheapside Cafe and Cincinnati police wrote that the situation had been presented incorrectly in Miller's viral post. 

"Our goal yesterday, and always, is to try to keep our customers and employees safe -- and to run a profitable business," the restaurant's Facebook post said.

That didn't persuade everyone.

"I am well aware of the story as told by both sides at this point and still feel this way," a one-star reviewer wrote.

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