• Shop owner fighting racism allegations after 911 call

    By: Deborah Horne

    Updated:

    Kirkland police are investigating a 911 call about a yogurt shop customer the staff considered suspicious.

    It turns out the man, who is African-American, was supervising a court-ordered visit between a mother and her child.

    Ramon Cruz, the shop owner, said this is a big misunderstanding. He said he and his staff have been on edge because of three incidents at his restaurants, including a robbery.

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    When he got a text from a worried employee, he decided to take action.

    "They all come in together," said Cruz, pointing to a video image. "Our staff was actually looking at the money, 'cause she's counting."

    Cruz watched his surveillance video of what happened Nov. 7 inside his Menchie's Yogurt shop in Kirkland's Totem Lake neighborhood.

    He says his employees weren't looking when Byron Ragland came in with a mother; he was supervising a court-ordered visit with her son.

    When they finally noticed him, Ragland was sitting alone in a corner of the store. 

    "That's pretty much the situation for the next 30 or more minutes," Cruz said.

    So his staff sent a text asking him for help.

    "In the text there was nothing about race, no color," said Cruz. "I immediately, in front of my head, you know safety first. I called the police."

    When the 911 operator answered, he told her the issue.

    "There's this one guy who's been sitting in the corner, hasn't bought anything, been sitting there for over 30 minutes," he told the operator. "They're kind of scared because he looks suspicious.  He just keeps looking at the phone and looking at them."

    Cruz says what was going through their minds was the day, last month, when a customer, without warning, started throwing chairs around in another of his businesses. Another time, they were robbed.

    Neither suspect in those cases was black.

    "So we didn't look at it as he was black, right?" Cruz said.

    He says they looked at it "as a person who could be a problem from a safety perspective."

    "Now I know that was a mistake," he says. "I should not have associated previous incidents in our other stores. But I would have done the same thing just for the safety of our staff."

    Cruz says, as a Filipino-American, he knows the sting of racism.

    He said he is sorry for what has happened. He said he has already apologized to the mother who was visiting her son. He'd like to apologize to Ragland, too.

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