Sheriff Will Reichart of Skagit County, Washington, called for a boycott of a local Chinese restaurant after deputies understood the owner’s son to say that police were “no longer welcome” there. Skagit County deputies stopped at the Lucky Teriyaki restaurant in Sedro-Woolley to eat. The deputies alleged that the owner asked them to leave as two of them were paying their bill, added that they were no longer welcome there because they had upset other customers. Sedro-Woolley is a small town in Skagit County, close to the city of Mount Vernon and to Padilla Bay, and 75 miles north of Seattle.
On Facebook, comments and threats spread like wildfire. Sheriff Reichart wrote “The owner not only repeated the request but asked that we spread the word to other law enforcement that they were no longer welcome either.” Calling for a boycott of the restaurant, Reichart said, “I understand a business owner has a right to refuse service if he wants to. I also understand that as customers we all have the right to find some other restaurant to take our lunch break in.”
Once the news went on social media, the restaurant owners said they began receiving death threats and harassing telephone calls.
Sedro-Wolley Police Chief Lin Tucker said of the accusations: “It just makes you feel a little bit sick,” he told Q13 television news. “Their family’s probably going to pay the penalty for it. The business is probably going to hurt badly."
However, it may have been an unfortunate misunderstanding.
When local KIRO-TV sent a reporter to Lucky Teriyaki, the reporter determined that the restaurant owner, Xuechuang Li, did not appear to understand the questions. The reporter contacted a Mandarin-speaking reporter, Natasha Chen, to translate over a cellphone. Once the questions and answers were clarified, the middle-aged owner of the restaurant broke down in sobs, nearly collapsing. Covering his face as tears streamed down, the Chinese owner appeared disconsolate.
Sedro-Woolley Police Chief Lin Tucker
The owner explained that the deputies had been sitting near another group of diners, who had spilled water and soup, and that they seemed argumentative. It was his son, he explained, who were concerned that the deputies had made the other customers uncomfortable. The son then asked the deputies in broken English if they were about to leave when they paid their bill. The son said to deputies: “Police not welcome here.”
The Mandarin-speaking reporter, Chen, asked if Li and his son understood that a deputy had tried to clarify the situation. The son said he did not understand the questions posed by the deputies, and may have answered “yeah” to all of them. When angry phone calls came, Li said that they simply replied “okay.”
Sheriff Reichart did not edit or remove the Facebook post until approximately 4 p.m. ET. In a July 15 post on Facebook, the sheriff wrote:
"This morning I met with the owner of Lucky Teriyaki and his son. They apologized for the incident that made news yesterday, and expressed their desire to accept everyone to their business, including law enforcement officers associated with all offices and departments. I told both father and son that I was appreciative and grateful for their willingness to once again welcome everyone to visit their restaurant. And that it was my hope that this matter can quickly be put behind us all. Thank you to all of the citizens who expressed support for law enforcement in Skagit County. Please accept that this matter has been resolved to our satisfaction, and we encourage everyone to patronize Lucky Teriyaki."
One person commented at the department’s Facebook that it was not possible that the owner’s son did not understand what he was saying.
Li is offering free food to all law enforcement officers on July 18 in the hope of patching up relations. He also wants to offer an explanation to the sheriff. “Yeah, I want police coming,” Li’s son said. “He means welcome for police officers to come over here,” Li said.
No criminal charges were filed against Li and his son. No civil action against the sheriff for possible slander and libel has been filed.