David Harris is the franchise owner of many Smithfield’s Chicken and Barbeques, as well as the one located off of Jones Sausage Rd., in Raleigh, North Carolina. As such, he’s authorized his restaurant to give a 25 percent discount to all uniformed police officers who frequent his restaurant, which now has dozens of locations across the state.

But he might be rethinking his generosity after the way he was treated this week by the Raleigh Police Protective Association (RPPA) and others — actions which he says emotionally devastated him, and nearly ruined his 20-year reputation of delivering high-quality food to satisfied customers.

It all started a week ago, when a couple of patrolmen came to take advantage of the discount they receive for being cops. The two men entered, ordered and ate. However, before they left, they complained to the manager that one of the employees had offended them.

According to Harris’ high-profile attorney Mark O’Mara (who happens to have represented George Zimmerman), the officer told the manager he’d seen the employee mouth the words, “Fuck the Police.” The term was made famous by the rap group NWA. From there, the situation, one could say, got far out of hand.

According to O’Mara, the officer then told a detective and others, and soon the progression of the “telephone game” got out of hand. The Raleigh Police Protective Association, which may be responsible for the majority of the confusion, issued the following statement on Facebook.

They claimed employees were actually singing the NWA song, even the manager, and chided the restaurant for its “class and professionalism.” The only problem with their accusation, which has since been removed, is that it never happened. Yes. That’s right. It never took place.

After the RPPA posted their condemnation of the “fake news” incident, the restaurant reported they were getting hate mail, harassing phone calls, racist comments directed to its employees as well as threats of physical harm. The news went viral, even making headlines on FoxNews who said Harris promised to fire any employee who didn’t respect law enforcement.

Even evangelist Franklin Graham got in on the action with a post of his own, condemning the employee’s actions in a Facebook post saying;

Smithfield’s Chicken ’N Bar-B-Q restaurants have great fried chicken and barbecue—being from North Carolina, I’ve eaten there many times. I was shocked and disappointed to see where workers at one location had disrespected police officers by singing a vulgar, explicit, “anti-cop” rap song to them as they were there trying to have a meal.

It is beyond explanation why they would even think about treating law enforcement this way. I’m sure the owner was appalled as well—he has apologized and said he would “terminate anyone employed that doesn’t share our RESPECT of ALL law enforcement.”

The employees who participated deserve to be fired! They haven’t asked my opinion, but I think this restaurant should give any uniformed police officers who are forgiving enough to come there to eat this month a barbecue sandwich and drink on the house. Do you agree?

But since hiring O’Mara, whose team conducted a thorough investigation of the incident — using video footage and interviewing employees, patrons, as well as the officers involved — the truth has now emerged. The high-profile attorney then joined Harris and addressed reporters at a press conference outside the restaurant.

According to O’Mara, not only was no one in the restaurant singing the famous rap song, but the employee was some 25 feet away working at the hush puppy machine in the kitchen when the alleged incident took place. In fact, according to O’Mara, no one in the restaurant, neither patrons nor employees, heard anyone singing any song or say anything derogatory to the officer. It does appear, however, that the officer has extraordinary abilities to read lips from so far away.

Still, the officer said he saw the employee mouth the words but didn’t speak to him directly. Apparently, the insulted officers weren’t offended enough to return their food to the manager, because the video shows them sitting down, eating, engaging in conversation and, before leaving, addressing their concerns with the manager.

O’Mara said his team spoke with the employee, who decided to resign. While he didn’t admit to saying what the officers believed he said, he felt as though he’d done something “stupid” by bringing a lot of unnecessary attention to his place of work.

The Free Thought Project contacted the restaurant directly, and while no one would comment, they did confirm that they give all officers a 25 percent discount on food.

After learning the truth in the case, a rare admission from the leader of a large metropolitan law enforcement agency took place. Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown issued the following statement, setting the record straight.

From the beginning, when I first learned about this situation, I committed that our team would work together fully with the owner of this restaurant, to better understand the matter and to find a way forward.

I’m happy to report that we have collaborated in a very positive way, and together we have established that there has been a lot of misinformation spread about this incident. And, today, I’m glad to have the opportunity to update the public on what we’ve learned.

Despite media reports, two officers witnessed one employee make eye contact with them and mouth the words “F… the Police.”

There was no singing. There were no other employees involved. Because of the subtle nature of this act, it was not witnessed by anyone else in the store.

Ultimately, the Raleigh Police Department, Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q and our whole community were victims of misinformation and misunderstanding causing the original reporting of the story to be wrong.

The Raleigh Police Department seeks to serve all members and all elements of the community in fairness and without bias.

We expect the same in return and are confident that Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q share those same values.

The first step in creating understanding between two parties is to come together to communicate. I’m proud to say, we’ve done exactly that.

We need to grow collectively in both organizations beyond this and the Raleigh Police Department remains committed to doing just that.

Deck-Brown stopped short of blaming the RPPA, instead simply saying the original reporting was wrong. For their part, the RPPA isn’t apologizing, although it was their post which set off the firestorm of controversy, racist threats and senseless hate.

While they have since deleted their Facebook post (pictured above) the organization stopped far short of apologizing for vilifying the favorite NC restaurant. They posted:

Last Friday, we shared a post on our Facebook page about Smithfields Chicken and BBQ. There was an investigation conducted and while there were inappropriate comments made by an employee of the restaurant, not all the information in the post was accurate.

Smithfields has taken all the appropriate steps to deal with the manager involved and our organization appreciates Smithfields proper investigation and swift action on dealing with the employee.
We have spoken with the owner personally and know he is a strong supporter of our police officers. We believe the issue is resolved and encourage our police officers and members to continue to dine at Smithfields Chicken and BBQ.

That post immediately drew outrage from those who were originally up in arms over the incident, and who’d expressed their own outrage that a police officer would be treated so indignantly. They had their own choice words for the RPPA, the ones who started the firestorm in the first place.

John Bischof responded to the RPPA’s Facebook post, saying, “You guys should go look at what you originally posted, then go look at all the other posts across the internet about it, and then seriously go rewrite your apology to Mr Harris and all the other employees of Smithfields. And you might also talk to a lawyer in case Mr Harris decides he is owed some compensation for this.” Others weren’t so gentlemanly.

Sarah Sydney wrote, “You’re seriously not even going to apologize to the owner and his employees? The reason police are losing credibility is because of this kind of BS – you LIED. Own it. If I were the owner, I’d sue you for slander, and I would have a case. This made national news, and your irresponsible post caused unnecessary damage to this restaurant’s reputation. You’re a completely disgraceful organization. We demand public apologies, in person, to all those you have wrongly painted in a bad light.”

We spoke with Mark O’Mara directly, who stated his client wants to mend fences with the police and restore the decades-long trust he has with law enforcement. He said he is also going to help his employee find a good job elsewhere.

O’Mara told us that social media is to blame for the controversy and that “All of us should know better” when it comes to tweeting and re-tweeting things we aren’t sure are true or not.

And Graham issued the following update to his original post;

I’m so glad Smithfield’s Bar-B-Q ‘N Chicken Restaurant and the Raleigh Police Department have investigated and clarified what took place in the Jones Sausage Road location incident reported on Fox News a couple of days ago, and that the employee involved no longer works there.

I agree with franchise owner David Harris who emphasized everyone’s support of law enforcement–“God bless all the men and women who put their lives at risk.” This restaurant has some of the best fried chicken, barbecue, and coleslaw I’ve ever eaten anywhere—if you get a chance, I recommend you go try it. It makes me hungry just posting about it!

Jack Burns is an educator, journalist, investigative reporter, and advocate of natural medicine