Police in Canada have launched an internal investigation after police officers threw a woman wearing a Star Wars stormtrooper costume to the ground and bloodying her before handcuffing her on suspicion that she was carrying a gun on May 4th. However, the “firearm” was actually a toy modeled on the blaster guns carried by the iconic Imperial villains.
May the fourth is known among fans of George Lucas’ as Star Wars Day. The catchphrase of the occasion, “May the Fourth be with you,” is a pun on the saga’s beloved catchphrase, “May the Force be with you.”
Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina, a pizza and donair kebab restaurant themed on the series located in Lethbridge, Alberta, hoped to use the unofficial holiday to promote itself.
Restaurant owner Bradley Whalen explained to Lethbridge News Now:
“We had music playing in the parking lot, we had one of our staff dress up as a stormtrooper kind of waving to people walking up and down the road, we had people stopping by and getting pictures with the stormtrooper, we put a couple of promotions on in the restaurant to entice people to come.”
However, the promotion – which included an unnamed 19-year-old female restaurant worker donning the stormtrooper costume – went horribly awry after the worker was brutally forced to the ground, leaving her shaken and with a bloody nose.
The teenaged employee was walking around a parking lot surrounding the cantina after arriving to start her shift at 10 a.m. By 11:20 a.m., three squad cars arrived at the scene before initiating force against the young woman.
During the encounter, restaurant owner Bradley Whalen desperately pled with officers that the woman was carrying a harmless toy gun, asking them “are you serious?” Meanwhile, a man filming the altercation tried to explain to officers that the prop “blaster” was the sort of item one could find at a “dollar store.”
Whalen believes that the police failed to control the situation, putting his employee in serious danger. He said:
“Police officers had guns drawn, pointed at my employee. They were yelling at her to put the gun down so she threw the plastic gun on the ground.
“At that point in time when I came out, she was on her knees kneeling down on the ground. The police had already checked and seen that the gun was plastic so they already knew that there wasn’t an issue or a risk there.”
Lethbridge Police Services attempted to defend the incident, claiming in a statement that the woman did not initially comply with officers’ instructions to get on the ground.
“The weapon was ultimately confirmed to be a fake firearm,” the statement added.
In response to a number of media inquiries regarding the process involved in a service investigation directed into the…
However, Whalen offered a much different account of the altercation. He said:
“[The employee] kept yelling at them that she couldn’t kneel down because, in that stormtrooper costume, you can’t even sit down in it, like it’s impossible to sit down. She kept telling them that she couldn’t get down is what she explained to me after we talked to her.”
“It wasn’t a matter of her not wanting to cooperate … She dropped the gun when they told her to and just forcing her, making her get down on the ground after they determined that she wasn’t a risk and that the gun wasn’t even a real gun, it was a plastic Star Wars blaster.”
After the video of the event went viral and caused a public outcry, Alberta police watchdog group the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) agreed to investigate the incident to determine what went wrong.
However, Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina is using the unfortunate buzz surrounding the police brutality case to promote its restaurant. In a Facebook post, the restaurant shared images of a new sign informing customers that the blasters are indeed only plastic.
In an update, the restaurant explained:
“Our staff member is doing OK. She was a little bumped and bruised. There is still a long way to go for her emotional recovery but we appreciate all the kind words of support during this crazy time. The force is strong with this one!
“She will continue to be our amazing employee and we hope to allow her to stay home as long as possible and continue to pay her. Anyone wishing to offer any type of support can do so by visiting our website at www.cocovanilla.ca also we have had tons of messages offering to send her things.
“Anyone is welcome to mail items or have flowers delivered directly to the restaurant at 531 13St North Lethbridge Alberta T1H2S6 Again thank you everyone for your find words and support for her in this crazy time.”