$600K lawsuit filed against 2 Windsor police officers and board after Arby's incident

The Windsor Police Services board and two officers face a $600,000 defamation lawsuit from an Arby's restaurant franchise following an incident in June. 
Two employees are shown taking a knee while a third serves a Windsor police officer at an Arby's drive-thru on June 19. The image was posted to social media and widely shared along with an inaccurate description of what led up to the incident and what followed. (Twitter)

The Windsor Police Services board and two officers face a $600,000 defamation lawsuit from an Arby's restaurant franchise following an incident in June. 

The lawsuit, filed by James Laughton Enterprises Inc., names officer Tim Kettlewell, officer Shawn Farrand and the Windsor Police Services board. 

The lawsuit filed on Aug. 20 seeks $500,000 in damages for "defamation, libel, slander, negligence, conspiracy, loss of reputation, unlawful interference with business interest and lost revenue" and an additional $100,000 for "aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages" after a picture taken by an on-duty officer of two Arby's empoloyees was shared on social media by an off-duty officer, and went viral. 

The circumstances leading up to and including the photo being published on social media have been confirmed by Windsor Police. On June 22, the police service said it was conducting an internal review into the affair. 

Post goes viral

Windsor Police have confirmed that an on-duty officer refused his food at an Arby's restaurant on Tecumseh Road when in the drive-thru he saw employees take a knee — a sign of protest against police brutality and racism toward the Black community.

The police service says the on-duty officer took a photo of the employees performing the gesture and sent it to an off-duty officer who posted the picture to his personal social media account with inaccurate details of the event. 

The post made by the off-duty officer falsely retold the events and implied that the restaurant shouldn't count on him responding to a service call at that location, if needed, said the police service. 

"The Windsor Police Service did not authorize nor do we support the message posted by the off-duty officer," said the police service when it announced the internal review.

"We want to re-assure the community that the safety of everyone is paramount and our officers will always respond to all calls for service."

The Windsor Police Services Board and two officers are the subjects of a defamation lawsuit. (Jason Viau/CBC)

The lawsuit says the post was a "false, defamatory and libellous statement of fact," and that as a result of the post going viral, Arby's and its employees were threatened by community members. 

The suit claims that Arby's suffered a "significant financial loss" and that due to threats it received, the franchisee was forced to shut down two locations for three days. 

A statement of defense has not yet been filed and the claims have not been proven in court. 

Damaged community's relationship with Windsor Police 

After the incident took place, Windsor activist Remy Boulbol told CBC News that the situation is "damaging" to the service's relationship with the community.

Former Ontario Liberal candidate Remy Boulbol said the inaccurate social media post is 'damaging' and takes an 'us versus them' approach. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Boulbol said the situation speaks volumes to the relationship some police officers have with the community. 

For starters, it shows that some police may hold an "adversarial" perspective when it comes to citizens who engage in such types of peaceful demonstrations, Boulbol said, adding that there "has to be a level of trust between a police service and its citizens."

The fact that inaccurate details about the Arby's incident were posted online is also "damaging" and creates an "us against them" situation, she added.

At the same time, Boulbol said she knows there are members of Windsor police who are trying to do good and make changes. 

In a response to a request for comment, Windsor Police Const. Natalya Natyshak told CBC News that Windsor Police do not comment on matters that are before the court. 

CBC News reached out to James Laughton Enterprises Inc., which referred their lawyer who did not respond in time for publication.