PENSACOLA, Fla. (WALA) - A Florida teen said on Wednesday, Nov. 28, a Pensacola police officer asked her and her service dog to leave a fast-food restaurant.
The teen captured the encounter on cell phone video, and she spoke to FOX10 News about the incident.
She said about 3 a.m. Wednesday, four friends wanted some food and headed into the East Gregory Street What-a-Burger location in Pensacola.
"They can refuse service at any time. They don't have to have a reason," said Pensacola Police Officer Alex Bell, on a cell phone video captured by Danielle Woodson.
"I already have problems with anxiety, and this totally escalated all of that. I mean, this is the kind of thing I have my service dog for," said Danielle Woodson.
Woodson said she self-trained her 3-year-old retriever McLeod as a service animal.
Woodson said McLeod, wearing a green canvas vest that has the words "Service Dog" written on it,was underneath the booth at the restaurant.
A What-a-Burger spokesperson said, in an e-mail response, that some other customers complained about dog odor.
"I heard them asking for a refund; and not too much later, the manager came to us and asked us to leave," said Seth Minor, Woodson's friend.
Minor, Woodson and two other friends decided to stay, telling the manager she had no right to ask them to leave because of the service dog.
Later, a Pensacola police officer responded to intervene.
"Danielle's cell phone battery had just died, so she asked to borrow my phone to film," said Minor.
Here's a transcribed excerpt from the cell-phone video:
Officer Bell: Everybody needs to get up and leave.
Woodson: Leave? I'm sorry, why?
"He seems to approve the fact that he's being filmed in the video. She mentions that she's filming and he says, ‘OK,'" said Minor.
More transcribed dialogue from the cell-phone video:
Woodson: Sir, I'm filming this because I'm going to file a complaint, later.
Officer Bell: OK.
Woodson: I'm sorry, this is complete discrimination. You're asking me to get out of this restaurant because of my service dog?
Officer Bell: Yes. The restaurant has called me here. Y'all have eaten. They have the right to refuse service at any time.
"He said there were customer complaints, and we had to leave," said Minor.
Executive director of Service Dogs of Florida Ken Lyons said the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA spells out the law related to service animals.
"Service dogs are regulated by three different federal agencies; the Department of Justice handles public accommodation, which is what's involved in this situation. Under the ADA public accommodations are not allowed to card service dog animals all they can ask is two specific questions," said Lyons.
"He asked me the questions he wasn't allowed to ask. He didn't ask me the two questions you are allowed to ask which is: ‘Are you disabled?' and, ‘Is that a service dog, and what task does he perform?'" said Woodson.
On the cell-phone video, Woodson said this is my service dog, Officer Bell then asks, "What for?"
Woodson then tells Officer Bell she's disabled and the dog is her service dog. Officer Bell than asked, "Do you have documentation?"
Lyons said there isn't an official certification or license for service animals, some states have registration, but it's not a requirement.
"I just want to raise awareness. It's one thing for a person in a public place to ask intrusive questions, and they have no right to. It's another thing for a business owner and then a government official to step all over your rights," said Woodson.
What-a-burger officials said they will re-train employees on the appropriate way to accommodate guests with service animals, while also managing any concerns from other customers.
Officer Bell, in a statement to his supervisors, said he told Woodson that she was not denied service. He said the group was served food and finished eating, and now the restaurant wanted them to leave.
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