UPDATE: Local restaurants rally to back law enforcement after two Lee Co. Deputies were denied service

PHENIX CITY, Ala. — The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is working to learn why two of its deputies were denied service at a local Taco Bell Saturday night. Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones tells News 3 around 9:40 p.m. CDT, the deputies went inside the Taco Bell on Hwy. 280 in Phenix City.

When they approached the counter, Sheriff Jones says the cashier told the deputies that she wasn’t going to serve the deputies because of the law enforcement uniforms that they were wearing. Another customer inside the restaurant supported the cashier’s decision not to serve the deputies, saying “I didn’t want to eat with cops.”

The deputies then left the restaurant. No argument or fight ensued. Sheriff Jones tells News 3 that based on the law, people may not be denied based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. However, appearance is not specifically included. The sheriff calls the incident unfortunate.

“I’m very disappointed,” Sheriff Jones said. “We pride ourselves on treating people with basic respect.”

Sheriff Jones says he was pleased how professionally deputies and how Tacala handled the event. He adds that the recent dissension towards law enforcement is something he has never seen before. “With this instance being here, we’re still a little bit stunned at the treatment, but I guess that’s the culture that we live in right now,” Sheriff Jones said. “It’s not going to keep us from doing our job. As a matter of fact, I think it strengthens our resolve to continue to work even harder and be even more professional.”

When asked whether criminal or legal action will be taken against the restaurant, Sheriff Jones said it was too early to judge. He and the restaurant’s management are currently in talks about what will happen to the employees involved. Tacala Companies, the franchise owner of the Phenix City Taco Bell, says:

In no way [do we] endorse this sentiment. We are deeply appreciative of the men and women who have taken the oath to serve and protect our communities. We have launched an investigation into this matter and will be reaching out directly [to the sheriff.]”

There are multiple restaurants opening their doors and hearts as a result of the incident: Del Taco on Manchester Expressway, Steamy’s, Wood Fire Restaurant

The sheriff says that this incident should not determine how people view all Taco Bell’s, just as the actions of one law enforcement officer should not determine how people view law enforcement in general.

Also below, you’ll find a statement from a Taco Bell spokesperson:

In the course of the investigation at the Taco Bell in Phenix City, Tacala, the franchise owner of that location, has terminated the employee who refused service to two Lee County Deputies on July 16th.  Tacala has contacted the Lee County Sheriff’s Department to apologize directly to the two Deputies and assure them of their ongoing support of law enforcement.

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