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Homeless Woman Arrested at McDonald’s

by Mike Rhodes (mikerhodes [at]
A homeless woman in a wheelchair was arrested and given a citation because she needed to use a bathroom.
Homeless Woman Harassed at McDonald’s
By Mike Rhodes

Sherri Williams was cited by the police yesterday because she tried to use the restroom at McDonald’s at Olive and highway 99 in Fresno. Williams and her husband Al are regular customer at McDonald’s, they’re homeless and she uses a wheelchair. On that morning, Al bought a cup of coffee and Sherri headed to the restroom. That is when McDonald’s manager Michelle Torres saw Sherri and said “I need you to go, your not purchasing anything, I need you to go.” Al told Torres that Sherri needed to use the restroom and wash her hands and after that she would buy something. Torres went to summons a police officer who was in the restaurant.

Moments later the officer arrived and said “they tell me they are asking you to leave but you aren’t leaving.” Al said “why do we have to leave?” The officer replied that “this is a private restaurant and they can refuse service to anybody.” Al pointed out that they can only refuse service if they have a reason. The officer responded by saying that if she does not leave “she is going to be arrested.”

Sherri was then taken outside and given a citation - PC 602.1 for “Interfering with Business” by officer D.J. Onruh that demands she show up in criminal court on September 5. Sherri and Al believe that they are being discriminated against because they are homeless and Sherri is in a wheelchair. In a letter Sherri sent to McDonald’s on June 29, 2007, she wrote about an incident that happened three days earlier. In that incident, Sherri wrote “I was subject to harassment and false accusations by employees of the establishment for use of a public restroom. As a patron at this restaurant there was no legal cause or justification to be escorted out of McDonalds by a Fresno City Police Officer.”

Sherri admits that she might take longer in the restroom than other customers because of her disability. In her letter of June 29, Sherri wrote “I have been a regular patron of this location for several years and never have had regular customers make complaints about my use of the restroom nor harassed by Mc Donald staff as I have in recent months by current management. I am not certain if it’s my homelessness or disability but it seems that my presence annoys these employees regardless of the fact that I have patronized McDonalds for years. I may have left a slight mess when using the restroom but it is partly because of my health, limited condition and the inadequate dispenser in the women’s restroom. I am not clear who sets the policies, practices and procedures at this establishment but it certainly violations the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to accommodating an individual with a disability and the inadequate dispenser in the restroom.”

Waiting in the parking lot, while the officer wrote up the citation for her crime of needing to use the bathroom, Sherri was getting hot as temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees. The officer was sitting in his air conditioned cruiser as he wrote up the citation. It was at this time when my daughter and filmmaker Simone Whalen-Rhodes arrived on the scene with her video camera. As she filmed the developing scene McDonald’s manager Torres came out and said “I’m going to have to ask you to leave, you can not video on our property.” Simone responded that she has a legal right to be there and Torres said “you don’t have a right to be on my property and video tape, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” The intrepid journalist stood her ground and refused to leave.

That was when I arrived, hearing Torres say “sir, you are not allowed to take pictures. . . and I’m asking you to leave.” I replied that just because Torres didn’t want me there does not revoke my rights as a journalist. There was a story unfolding and I was determined to find out what was happening. She claimed McDonald’s had a rule about photography on their property and I continued to insist on my right as a journalist to cover the story. Torres eventually went inside and the issue was dropped.

The police were now aware that this incident was being documented and decided not to arrest and book Sherri. As one officer stood in the shade and another sat in his air conditioned car, Sherri continued to bake in the hot sun. Soon, a Sargent and more officers arrived. The Sargent asked for my identification and informed me that I could keep my photos and the video. This generous gesture (allowing me to keep my photos and video) was tempered with a threat that they might get a court order to use them in a criminal proceeding should this incident end up in court.

Officer Onruh emerged from his cruiser to issue the citation. He told Sherri he was issuing the citation because she was “trespassing and interfering with the business and Michelle is the store manager, she is the one who arrested you.” Sherri was finger printed and signed the citation.

Earlier in the morning, and the reason why an officer was in McDonald’s in the first place, was that there had been a robbery. One officer responded to the robbery call. On the other hand, there were at least three police cruisers on the scene and six or seven officers involved to sort out the alleged crime of a homeless woman needing to use the bathroom. What is wrong with this picture?

For a list of articles and documents about the struggle for civil liberties for homeless people in Fresno, see:

§Police Come Out in Force
by Mike Rhodes
There were at least three police cruisers on the scene and six or seven officers involved to sort out the alleged crime of a homeless woman needing to use the bathroom.
§McDonald’s Manager Threatens Journalists
by Mike Rhodes
She claimed McDonald’s had a rule about photography on their property. I continued to insist on my right as a journalist to cover the story. Torres eventually went inside and the issue was dropped.
§Sherri is Left in the Sun
by Mike Rhodes
The arresting officer is seen here calling for back up. He insisted that Sherri sit in the hot sun while he conducted his business from inside his air conditioned cruiser.
§Close up of Citation
by Mike Rhodes
All photos (except photo 4) by Mike Rhodes. Photo 4 is from video taken by Simone Whalen-Rhodes
Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by GreenGlass (grifitngalways [at]
This Is Wat iT is about, Eploiting the FRESNO POLICE, A simular situation i was
involved in when the F.P.D used execess force on me after i informed the 2 officers i was just discharged from
the Marine Corp and I pose no threat too Authority, Being treated like i was a street punk and thrown against my
vehicle. I cant tell you how the leader ship of the Fresno Police Sickens Me, All respect is gone even if they are just
following orders too this womens arrest!!!
by Jose Bove's dismantling team underway
There's always an option for communities to NON-VIOLENTLY reclaim their landspace even under corporate occupations by McDonalds and other exploitative entities;

"JEFFRESS: August 12, 1999, you and a group of farmers from your French union, the Confederation Paysanne, dismantled a McDonald’s under construction just outside the city of Millau near Larzac. It was this action that brought you international attention. Would you talk about it?

BOVé: There were three or four of us who sat around in March 1999 talking about doing something symbolic, but there would have been no reason for the McDonalds protest if it hadn’t been for the outrageous tariff placed on French cheese by the Americans because the French refused to let outlawed hormone-treated beef be imported from the States. The tariff meant that we lost our cheese market in the States. There was no political law against it, nothing to stop it, so one solution was to attack McDonalds as a symbol of malbouffe (bad food).

We wanted to do this protest in broad daylight, with a large group of people, a non-violent action, but symbolically very strong, and up front with the authorities. We were careful to explain ahead of time to the police that our objective was to dismantle the McDonald’s. They informed their superiors and the police chief. Then an officer from the police department called us to say that he was going to ask the manager at McDonalds for a sign of some kind so we could destroy that, that it be more symbolic. We told him: “Are you kidding? That’s nuts. We’re going to dismantle the doors and windows.”

The police department didn’t think that the protest called for a big police patrol. We did ask them to be there to watch over things as we emptied the construction site, in case there were any workers or tools that were in the way. Everything went like we thought it would. The only strange thing was the presence of ten or so police officers in street clothes carrying cameras. The protest went along and everybody, including the kids, helped dismantle the interior of the building: partitions, some doors, electrical outlets, and sheet metal on the roof that was nailed down but which came up easily, because it was part of a kit, decorative stuff. It was really a light weight piece of construction, the whole place.

Everything was put into two tractor wagons, while some people repainted the roof of the restaurant. Both wagons were full, one of them a grain dumpster. Some of the kids leaving the site climbed into the dumpster with pieces of wood in their hands to pretend to play drums, and we all took off in a parade toward police headquarters in Millau. There was clapping as we rode through the city; people thought it was funny and fun. We unloaded the wagons in front of the police station. It was great weather, everyone had a good time, and the party finally ended up in the outdoor café’s in Millau.

read on @;

So McDonalds thinks they can get away with their exploitation of working class residents?? What does McDonalds corporation really offer people anyway??

The worst possible food for human nutritional health, documented by medical doctors everywhere. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.. are all found at McDonalds hidden behind their deceitful promotions of healthy food..

Their "low" price and occupation of landspace at taxpayer expense, one of the most heavily subsidized corporations profits billions from siphoning off of working people's taxes then smites the least fortunate in our society with police state repression??

Beef ranchers and grain for cattle feed replaces tropical rainforest ecosystems (source of oxygen, biodiversity, indigenous cultures, etc..) with hot, dry and polluted industrial ranching/plantation monocultures, leaching tons of nitrates into groundwater, rios, lakes, oceans, etc..

There are many other options, locally owned and operated eateries would be friendlier than corporate giants like McDonalds to the less fortunate residents of the community, while also encouraging healthier food for human consumption from the farm to the table..

So, let's allow ourselves some leeway to do everyone and the ecosystem a favor. We can boicott, bomb and burn the heck out of ANY McDonalds intruder in your community (AFTER or BEFORE the people are there!! NON-VIOLENCE to HUMANS is ESSENTIAL!!) Other then the Harm None credo, don't try to play nice with these corporate tyrants, let's just shut 'em down!!

We're not in France. What Jose Bove did there doesn't apply here under the near dictatorship of the GW bush regime. There is a serious risk of prison time for anyone caught in this type of an action! PLEASE BE CAREFUL!!

Lone wolf actions are also safer, what nobody knows, nobody says!!

by Ray Anderson
Great job
Glad someone was there to cver the story
hopefully someone will cover the case in court
by Lynn Magnuson (ljmagnuson [at]
I'm really upset to see Sherri treated so unkindly. Seems like the "golden arches" aren't so golden if you're homeless and/or in a wheelchair. Thought our society had gotten over these sorts of problems. I think you're right about the founders being upset by this incident. Most of the fast food places I've been to have been pretty nice about letting a customer or non customer use the restrooms, and some have even been kind enough to actually assist the customer getting into the room if they're in a wheelchair. Maybe the manager of this one should go back to management school and review the section about the "Americans With Disabilities Act" ... and get canned if she flunks it :(

Lynn in New Orleans
This women should sue McDonalds, obviously the manager torres doesn't know the state title 24 access laws and Federal ADA acess laws. I'm sure the McDonald's Corporation will not be happy when they get sued because this manager of this McDonald's was so ignorant of the rights of people with disabilities. I hope this women sets an example so that no other McDonald's employee's ever treat other PWD's like Torres treat this wheelchair user.
by steve (sinjefes [at]
What kind of cruel society do we live in where people can't use the restroom in a restaurant open to the public because they are poor, disabled, homeless, or part of whatever class of people the corporate middle managers deem undesireable?

This manager has sacrificed her humanity in exchange for a miniscule amount of power given to her by her corporate bosses. This sort of thing should not be tolerated, but instead the police have supported this injustice by criminalizing the victim.

We truly must be living in some kind of backwards nation to have things like this happen.
by Exador
It sounds to me that the manager and the cops are completely within their rights and the law. private property means they have the right to refuse service to anyone. Private property also means that you 'as a journalist' do not have a right to be on their property.
If you don't like it, peacefully picket on public property in front of the establishment. Otherwise, fuck off. Working people were not put on this earth to cater to bums. If they choose to, great, but you are not owed anything.
by Sarcastro
"I may have left a slight mess when using the restroom but it is partly because of my health, limited condition and the inadequate dispenser in the women’s restroom."

That says it all. What is the unspoken backstory to this? My guess is that, sometime in the past, this woman has left a disgusting mess for the staff to clean up. Clean up after yourself and maybe you won't have these problems.
by Just The Facts
The Ticket says, interfering with business.

According to the story, she attempted to use the bath room, as has been allowed many times before, but this time told to leave, 'because it was suspected she would use the bathroom, and not buy anything in this, private business’, which was as per this story, she made clear that indeed she would buy something before she would leave the store, but this was not believed and she was arrested for interference to this business, which never happened as she was, then and there by an officer, who happened to be there, removed from the business and arrested as stated.

This is a clear case of false arrest as well as discrimination, by Mc Donald’s, I hope she gets a good Lawyer and makes a Million Dollars!

If you need a Lawyer, let me know.

What asses some people are!

By the way, she could have been told she needed to buy something and not just use the restroom or she would not be allowed in again as it would become an interference of the Business, but that is NOT the way this happened!
by Mike
Exador wrote: "private property means they have the right to refuse service to anyone."

If that were true then McDonald's could refuse to serve someone because they are Jewish or African-American. Sherri did not do anything to deserve this discrimination. Fortunately, the law does not allow businesses and bigots to discriminate against someone because of the color of their skin or religion. The same should be true about economic status - McDonald's and other businesses should not be able to discriminate against people because they are poor or in a wheelchair.
by Bob Jeffries / retired LEO
After reading the article I am amazed to see that the Fresno Police would respond in this manner. I will say that this would not have happened in Indiana where I am from and as a retired Law Enforcement Officer can gurantee that neither myself or the Officers I supervised would have taken this kind of action. I also feel that the Manger Ms. Torres dicriminated against Sherri Williams and overreacted in this situation. I would hope that the store owner would want to rectify the situation and then FIRE Ms. Torres as incapable of managing the business. This story is a sad situation and a terrible humiliation for Sherri Williams and her husband. If I lived in the City of Fresno, I would campain to boycott this business until Ms. Torres was fired and a public apology was made to Sherri Williams.
by Michael Golden (mike_golden [at]
Once again FRESNO shows it can excel at violating the rights and liberties of those most needing!!! These ASSHOLES that call themselves cops, should be ashamed of themselves!! They, however, are more interested in that all-o-mighty paycheck than the rights and liberties of those most needing. You'll find them on Sundays over at Peoples Church, giving there "BUY ME INTO HEAVEN" donations to the church. Peoples Church, in my opinion, is nothing more than a upscale social club. If you're affluent enough to buy yourself in, you'll get to bump elbows with the likes of police chief, Jerry Dyer, an accused child molester. Or better yet, the ex Fresno county sheriff!! Don't you feel special??? These BASTARDS have bought and paid for there places in HELL. I can only hope to be around when they collect on there just rewards!!! It's a said state when you have to applaud the criminals for there war against the system!!! But let's face it, they may actually be better than the ASSHOLES that try to control us????
C'mon now, for all they knew she was headed in their bathroom to shoot up heroin.

That is a horrible side of town, full of bums and prostitutes.

The police were doing THEIR job by following up with the request of the citizen (the manager at McDonalds).

I can't even drive past that area of Fresno without getting hit up to buy crack or a hooker.
by Just The Facts
To: J H


This is not, Nazi Germany of, 1942! We do not give preferential deference to businesses assertions over that of persons, even, destitute persons. In America, you are presumed innocent until a legal determination has concluded, with the judgment that your not.

The, ‘COPS’, as per this presentation, and the, McDonalds, ‘Manager’, come across as disgraceful, contemptible, and, in violation of existing legal precepts.

What the, ‘HELL’, kind of thing are you!

by Excuse Me
But look at the pictures? The lady in the wheelchair looks like she's wearing a bra and boxers. Who wants to see that when they go in McDonalds? And if she's homeless, she's probably cleaning her whole body while in there. Mcdonalds bathrooms are meant for homeless people to shower in. And maybe she has a negative history with them so its understandable that they would see her give her the boot. People need to realize, businesses arent up and running so that homeless people can utilize their bathrooms.
Another thing, she's homeless but her daughter has a "film maker" friend? Can the friend please find them a HOME?
by TB
It was well over 100 degrees that day in Fresno. This woman has no shelter to get out of the heat. A bathing suit top and shorts would be acceptable attire. Also, the woman taking the video footage is not her daughter. As far as I know, Sherri doesn't have a daughter. Sherri simply needed to use the restroom. Yes, businesses offer public restrooms as a courtesy. However, the McDonalds manager and the police could have handled the situation in a much more compassionate manner but chose not to.
by Frank
Good example of a cop that tries to carry a big stick .
they should try to work in a manner to satisfy everone
I am sure it could have been handled in a better way .
if the cop would relize that they are only people too
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