The Eureka Police Department is investigating an assault at Starbucks on Tuesday evening as a possible hate crime.
According to EPD spokesperson Brittany Powell, officers were dispatched to Starbucks at about 6:40 p.m. for a report of a fight between a man and two women. When they arrived, they found the suspect had fled the scene.
Letitia Gaillard, who is of mixed racial descent, says she was sitting at a table at the coffee shop with some friends when she stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, leaving her backpack and some other personal items on the table, knowing her good friend Aimee Upchurch would look after them. While Gaillard was outside, Upchurch says a man came to the table and asked if he could plug his phone into an electrical outlet there and she said it was fine.
Gaillard says that is when she returned inside she saw the man in her seat and politely asked him to move so she could sit back down. The man started mumbling, Upchurch said, calling Gaillard a “fat cow” and saying she “probably didn’t have a man but if she did he needed to come down there to suck his dick.”
Concerned, Upchurch says she started to get up and come around the the table when Gaillard, who hadn’t heard the man’s mutterings, again asked him for her seat back. At that point, Gaillard says the man stood up and said, “You’re nothing but a fucking nigger,” shoved her and then started to throw a punch. Upchurch then stepped between the two, taking the man’s punch on the left side of her jaw.
Gaillard, who says she comes from a military family and knows some self-defense, says she then began pushing the man back and keeping him off balance, at which point another Starbuck’s customer stepped in and separated them, keeping the man at a distance.
“I don’t know his name but I would really like to thank him,” Gaillard says. “He just said, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you guys and left.’”
Upchurch then began having a seizure, and they say another customer leapt into action, clearing tables and chairs out of the way to create a safe space. When officers arrived a short time later, they called an ambulance, which transported Upchurch to the hospital.
Gaillard suffered nerve damage and a possible foot fracture in the exchange, which left Upchurch with a bruised jaw and back spasms, in addition to the seizure. Both say they were very disappointed that more customers didn’t intervene and that not a single Starbucks employee came to their aid — physically or verbally — or even checked on them in the aftermath of the assault.
Gaillard said she called the company’s corporate headquarters but has yet to hear back from the local manager.
When the Journal
called Starbucks this morning, a shift supervisor answered the phone.
“I’m not allowed to speak about this — it’s currently under investigation,” she said before hanging up.
Based on victim and witness accounts, EPD describes the suspect as a white male in his late 30s, standing about 6 feet tall with a thin build and strawberry-blond hair. He was carrying a longboard with green wheels. Powell said EPD is investigating the incident as an assault, battery and public disturbance, adding that “once the male is identified and interviewed we will submit the case to the DA to review for a hate crime.”
But first they have to find the man. Gaillard says she spotted him in Eureka today but he fled before she could take a picture of him. She also says she’s frustrated there is no surveillance footage of the man or the incident from Starbucks.
Upchurch says she hopes the incident drives home for white people the need for them to stand up in such situations and come to the aid of minorities being targeted, whether verbally or physically. Gaillard says she just hopes people come forward to report when targeted by hate speech.
“It’s not acceptable,” she says. “I don’t want women — and particularly minority women — to be discouraged from standing up for themselves.”