PUEBLO, Colorado — The family of a special needs child was kicked out of the Pantry Restaurant in Pueblo Tuesday. The child’s mother claims they are victims of discrimination.
However, the restaurant owners told News 5 it was the behavior of the child’s mother that led to their ouster after she was confronted about the child screaming.
A social media post about the incident went viral and both parties in the dispute have since been targeted for online harassment and abuse.
Restaurant owners Shawna and Kenny Valdez shared a security camera video of the incident with News 5. It shows Kenny seated at a table with two other restaurant customers. He gets up from the table, gives a fist bump to the customer, and approaches the family.
He stands at their table for 10 to 11 seconds and then walks over and sits at another table with a different group of customers. About two minutes later, the video shows the mother and child walking past Valdez and pausing at his table. The mother leans over and speaks to Valdez who then makes a motion with his arm toward the door.
No audio accompanies the video.
“I tried to overlook it as much as I could, and eventually what made me go have a talk with them was the little girl was leaning over the back of the booth screaming at the top of her lungs in this man’s ear,” Valdez recalled.
“I said would you please try to calm the kids down, I said, they're disrupting the restaurant and making my other customers feel uncomfortable. And I said if you can't do that, I'm probably going to have to ask you to leave.”
The child’s mother remembers the encounter differently. After granting an interview to News 5, she requested that we not reveal her name or likeness out of fear for her safety.
She explained that her daughter was diagnosed with mixed receptive disorder. She is non-verbal and gets overly excited and likes to scream.
“He (Valdez) comes up, he is aggressive, you can hear it in his voice, he says shut your kid up because she’s bothering my customers,” the mother recalled.
She said was embarrassed and angry and stopped at the table where Valdez was sitting to tell him off.
“I told him that he could shove his nasty food and his restaurant where the sun don’t shine, which I told him he could shove it up his a**, his fat a**,” she said.
Valdez recalled the mother using similar language toward him when he ordered her to leave. The mother then said he cussed at her in response, which Valdez denies.
“He got mad, leaned over the table, and told me you can just get the f*** out. And then, I said, well I’m sorry you don’t know what it’s like to have a special needs child. He said I don’t give a f*** what the f*** she is, get the f*** out.”
“I never raised my voice, I did not use any profanity,” Valdez said.
The viral Facebook post was uploaded Tuesday by a woman who claims to have witnessed the incident.
It reads in part, “The Owner Marty comes out in front of the whole Restaurant yells in the lil girl's face!!!”
The surveillance video does not appear to show Valdez yelling at the child either when he approached their table or when they stop at his.
“I would never in any way, shape, or form, say anything negative to a child,” Valdez said.
The post was later deleted, but it had been shared and viewed hundreds of times.
Shawna, who was not at the restaurant at the time, said the backlash has been horrible.
“The next day I think I got 27 threatening phone calls,” Shawna recalled.
She said several people left 1-star reviews of the restaurant on Google.
They also shared a video of a woman who came to the restaurant Wednesday and vandalized their windows with a marker.
“It’s just out of control,” Shanwa said. “She shoved him (Kenny), tried to hit me with a fly swatter.”
Two Pueblo police officers drove past the restaurant as the confrontation happened. The Valdez’s said they are pressing charges.
They feel like they’ve been defamed, falsely accused of bigotry against people with disabilities.
“That’s absolutely 100 percent not true,” Shawna said.
The hatred online has cut both ways. The child’s mother said people have anonymously reported her to child protective services on false claims she hit her daughter, which the video does not show.
“I’ve been getting numerous phone calls where people are calling me in the middle of the night saying my kid’s retarded and then hanging up the phone,” she said.
The restaurant owners and the child’s mother both said they know each other. Her grandmother worked at the Pantry for decades, and the family has dined here frequently.
“I want to be my kid's voice," the mother said about the ordeal. "She doesn’t have a voice, there's a lot of (autistic children) that don't have a voice.”
“I, my personal self, do not feel like I did anything wrong other than try to protect my business and my customers," Valdez said.
A protest is planned outside of the restaurant for Saturday morning. The Valdez’s said they will have security on site to protect their customers and staff.
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