When it comes to the ways we interact with society, there are a lot of things we take for granted on an every day basis. We expect to be treated with basic decency and respect by the strangers that we interact with, especially in situations where we’re spending our money. Unfortunately that does not always occur and sometimes when it happens and people are treated poorly the consequences are astonishing…
But if there’s one thing that’s true in this world, it’s that for all our lofty ideals about all men being equal in the eyes of God and the law, different types of people are treated in very different ways. Just as in The Prince and The Pauper, the very rich and the very poor may as well be living in two different worlds. The way this one man was treated for the sheer fact of how he lived has angered many who have called for a change!
Living on the Street
Nobody wakes up one day and say’s “I want to be homeless”. Many people walk by or encounter people who live on the street on a daily basis in big cities and in small. It is often a misconception that these people chose this life or made poor choices so that is why they are where they are. In some cases that is definitely true but in others there are many other reasons…
Whether it be mental illness or just “falling on hard times” there are many reasons that can lead a person to become homeless. Emory was the latter who tried to live a productive life and do the right thing but kept finding himself falling down and unable to get back up.
Years before he ever stepped foot in a Burger King for breakfast, Emory made an awful mistake. Down and out on his luck he needed money badly to pay for basic life needs. Unable to find a stable job or even an odd job Emory made the bad decision of trying to steal in order to get money.
Emoy decided he would forge a check in order to get some free cash. This was a bad decisions as he was not an “experienced” forger. As you can imagine, Emory was quickly arrested on charges. Luckily for him though he got off with a break and only received probation. The probation he received would later cause mass trouble for Emory….
Emory now free and back living on the street was trying to stay on the straight and narrow. He decided he would live a more productive life and was actually picking up small jobs to earn cash that he was able to use. While he was still homeless he put the life of crime behind him….
It was a November morning in Boston when Emory walked into a Burger King. Like every other customer in the store, the 37-year-old man was there because he was hungry and while it may not be the healthiest way to start the day, breakfast at a fast food restaurant is nothing if not quick and inexpensive.
Emory went to the counter, placed his order, then handed the cashier a $10 bill, just as millions of other people would do around the country every single day. But this time, it would result in the kind of treatment no other Burger King customer would have to deal with…
The cashier immediately looked at Emory as if he was trying to determine what type of person he was. While it wasn’t blatantly obvious he was homeless he also wasn’t totally “up to keep”. The cashier looked at him up and down and Emory had no idea why….
Rather than ringing him up and handing him a receipt then moving on to the next customer while his food was prepared, the cashier stopped and took a close look at the bill. The cashier was acting very odd and Emory was beginning to get nervous. He felt like he was being profiled and asked “is everything alright?”.
The cashier told him to wait a minute as he walked to the back of the restaurant. At this point Emory began looking over his shoulder totally embarrassed by what was occurring. What he didn’t know was what the cashier was going to come back and say to him…
As he stood there he noticed the cashier walking oddly back towards him, almost with a grin on his face. As the cashier approached Emory asked again “is everything alright?”. The cashier then smiled and said “good try” to Emory. Emory had no idea what the cashier was talking about and asked him what did he mean?
Emory was then surprised when the cashier accused him of trying to use counterfeit money. The cashier had said the $10 bill that Emory had handed to him was a fake and that he was calling the police. Emory now totally embarrassed could not believe what was going on, but it was about to get worse…
Being treated differently from most people wasn’t exactly unfamiliar to Emory. He was a homeless person, which meant he was used to people looking down on him or thinking he was up to no good, whether or not they had any cause to.
This was different, he was not being accused of a crime! It is one thing to look down or feel pity for him but it is an entirely different thing to accuse him of using counterfeit money to purchase his breakfast. This was not a good situation for someone like Emory to be in…
Fine, I’ll Go
But in this situation where he was just trying to buy a meal like everyone else, it came as something of a shock. Still without any food in his belly, Emory was willing to just take his $10, all the money he had to his name, and leave. While he found it ridiculous that he was being accused of this he didn’t want any trouble.
He figured that if this Burger King wasn’t willing to treat him with respect, he would get his breakfast elsewhere. There were plenty of places to eat and he was not going to give them his business or be treated so disrespectfully.
No Money Back
Emory at this point politely asked the cashier if he can have his money back so he can go eat somewhere else as they did not want his business. The restaurant refused to give him his money back. Emory was in complete disbelief.
While to most of us $10 may be a nominal amount but to a homeless person who only has $10 to their name it was everything. He could not just leave without his money as he needed that money to eat that day, it was all the he had. He asked them to please just give him his money and he will go. They said no and had other plans for him…
Call to 911
The workers at this Burger King instead of just returning the mans money decided that they would call the police. They were confident that this man was using stolen money to make a purchase and they wanted to teach him a lesson so he would not return and try it again.
The question you have to ask yourself is if this was not a homeless man would he be accused of such a thing? Would an ordinary person be put in this kind of situation and accused of using fake money? It is something that Emory asked himself as he waited…
Police On Way
Emory decided to stay and wait for the police to come because he needed that money badly and couldn’t leave without it. He tried to talk some sense into the cashier and the rest of the staff while he waited for the cops to arrive.
He figured that when the cops arrived they would sort it all out and realize it was not fake money that he was using. The police would give him his money back and he would be able to go on his way and find somewhere else to eat. Boy was he wrong….
The Police Arrive
It was still early in the morning when a squad car with officers pulled into the Burger King parking lot after receiving a call that a man had tried to purchase a meal using fake money. It is not a usual call that officers get but none the less when they are called, they show up.
The officers walked into the Burger King expecting a commotion but saw a man calmly standing there as well a few workers mulling around. They were unsure who were the involved parties were but were immediately called over by the employee’s so they can explain the situatoin.
The workers at the Burger King told the officers what had happened and why they made the call. The officers had asked the workers to see the $10 bill as well as many other questions such as if Emory has ever tried this before and if he was a frequent patron.
After watching the officers speak with the employee’s Emory felt confident that he would get his money back and be able to leave. He figured the officers had to recognize a $10 bill when they saw one. As Emory stood there and waited he had no idea what was coming for him…
The police walked over to Emory and asked him his side of the story. Emory explained what was going on and implored the officers to take a look at the bill. Thinking that once they did look at the bill this whole mis-understanding would go away Emory was relatively calm.
The officers said they had looked at the bill and they believed it was fake. They questioned him a bit more to ask where he got the bill from and Emory could not believe it. Then without hesitation they arrested Emory on the spot…
Instead of starting the day off with a hot meal, Emory Ellis was starting it off with a ride in the back of a squad car. On the ride to the police house Emory could not believe what was happening to him. He felt he was profiled for being homeless and felt this was totally unfair.
As they pulled up to the police station it began to dwell on Emory that he was in serious trouble. While he did nothing wrong he did not have the means to defend himself. Emory was officially charged with forgery of a bank note, a crime that can carry a life sentence…
On top of the hefty jail crime he could be facing, the arrest would have an even more harmful impact on Emory’s life than it might have for another person. As mentioned earlier Emory was currently on probation for forgery, although this time he really didn’t do it!
This arrest triggered a probation violation for him, which meant he would be held without bail. Emory would have to sit in jail for no reason at all until his final probation violation hearing. This was a bad situation…
Emory Ellis was not sitting in jail, locked up behind bars, for almost 3 months.. As Emory sat in jail wondering why this was happening to him he also had to question his past decisions that landed him here. It still felt brutally unfair that he was in prison because someone profiled him and then the police didn’t believe him.
Emory had to wait for the bill to be verified. This is done by having the bill sent to the Secret Service, the arm of the justice system that deals with counterfeit money. They would then inspect the bill to determine if it was real or not…
Free At last
After the investigation was completed by the Secret Service and Justice system they determined the bill was not a counterfeit. Their investigation proved what Emory had been saying all along, the $10 bill was real…
The prosecution then admitted that no crime had been committed and the charges against him were dropped. A judge also subsequently determined that there’d been no crime, thus no probation violation and Emory was finally released from jail. But his next ordeal was just about to begin…
Still Not Right
Just because he was out of jail, everything wasn’t automatically right with the world. Emory had lost over 3 months of his life to this foolishness, not to mention being subjected to the fear of being locked away for the rest of his life. As an icing on the cake, he didn’t even get his $10 back…
Emory was not back on the street without any money and his dignity lost. To make matters worse he was fearful of now returning back to jail for things he did not do but would be accused of. These were not good times and made it harder for emory to “get back on his feet”. Emory was looking to seek revenge, to right this wrong…
Emory seething with anger wanted revenge. He wanted someone to pay for the 3 months he lost and the embarrassing ordeal he was put through. Instead of turning to violence though he turned to the law. He felt someone had to pay for what had happened to him both literally and figuratively.
Emory secured the services of a lawyer to get some sort of restitution for the way he’d been treated. He secured the services of a lawyer called, Justin Drechsler, who filed a lawsuit against Burger King, the cashier, and Two Guys Foods, Inc. which was the franchisee.
3 Months Gone
Justin Drechsler sat in his office as Emory told him everything that had happened to him. Justin felt just like Emory did that someone had to pay for this and he was the man to make that happen. Emory felt confident his attorney could get the job done. Justin worked quickly to draft up a formal complaint.
The complaint said that Emory suffered “public humiliation and shame, sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression” because of his arrest and incarceration. “He’s expressed to me many times how much it sucks to lose 3 months of your life,” Drechsler said…
The suit alleges that Emory was discriminated against because he appeared unkempt and seeks damages for civil rights violations, defamation, theft of Emory’s money, and compensation for the months he spent in lockup. In total, they were seeking $950,000 in damages…
Justin spent much time crafting this complaint and ensured it covered every aspect that Emory told him. He felt the complaint should properly demonstrate the pain that Emory went through and to let the public know how this man was treated.
Though their lawsuit did not say that Emory was discriminated against because he was black, his attorney, Drechsler suspected that Emory’s race was a factor, combined with his disheveled appearance.
He said that if a white man in a suit such as himself had handed the same $10 bill to the same cashier on that same day, there would never have been a question of its legitimacy.
It Would Be Different
Even if they were, he said, the cashier would probably have apologized and said he couldn’t accept the money and it would have ended there. The police never would have been involved, Drechsler said…
Drechsler knew that this could be a controversial point to make but he felt it was necessary to point out the hypocrisy in all of this from the cashier’s actions all the way to the police officers actions.
“A person like me would’ve gotten an apology, but a person like Emory somehow finds his way in handcuffs for trying to pay for his breakfast with real money,” the attorney added emphatically.
“People will say, ‘He was homeless. Who cares if he went to jail for 3 months,'” he added. Unfortunately Mr. Drechsler had a fair point and was making an argument most people could agree with.
Drechsler when describing his dealings with the insurance company for Burger King said: “And even when you negotiate with these insurance companies [for the franchisee], they’ll say, ‘Well, he didn’t lose any wages.'”
Drechsler continued. “He lost his g**damn freedom! You think wages mean anything?” Two Guys Foods (the operator of the Burger King where the incident occurred) offered Emory a $10,000 settlement but was turned down. “We didn’t think that was nearly sufficient,” Drechsler said. “$10,000 is a nuisance money offer.”
Not About Money
Still splitting his nights between friends’ couches, shelters and, when there’s no other option, the street, this isn’t about the money for Emory. “Acts of discrimination, subtle and not so subtle happen every day and most of them don’t see the light of day because most of them don’t result in any consequences,” said Drechsler.
Drechsler continued: “If Emory was in it for a quick buck, he would have just taken the $10,000. How many homeless people do you know that would turn down that money.”
Burger Kings Statement
A Burger King Corp. spokesperson said the company does not tolerate discrimination “of any kind” but cannot comment on the specifics of this case.
The company went on to say that the franchisee, Two Guys Foods, Inc. is responsible for employee training and handling legal matters about the location.
The lawsuit filed was first reported by the digital legal news service Law360 was filed in a Suffolk Superior Court. They are seeking damages for $950,000.
While this is not about money Emory feels he should be compensated for the 3 months he had to spend in jail as well as all the other things he dealt with. To him the $950,00 would make someone pay for what happened to him and he can have a second chance at life.
This story was eventually picked up by the national news and went viral on the internet. It sparked a conversation online about treating people the right way, discrimination and how things like this should be handled in the future.
Emory was glad that this story made it’s rounds as he felt it was important for people to know he was a real person to and that even though he was homeless it does not mean he should be treated differently then others.