47-year-old Army veteran Ernest Walker went to a Chili’s in Cedar Hill, Texas, on Veterans Day to take advantage of the restaurant’s offer of a free meal, only to have his to-go box snatched away by a manager in a viral-video incident.
Things have not gone well for either Walker or the manager since their fateful encounter. The manager has been removed from his position, following a formal apology from Chili’s corporate office for his behavior, while threatening phone calls have forced Walker out of his home.
Walker’s attorney Lee Merritt said on Tuesday that a news outlet reporting on his story inadvertently revealed his home address, and he has been driven from his home by threatening phone calls. He also said a suspicious package was left at the house.
“He, his wife and his dog have had to move out around the 13th and they’ve been out ever since,” Merritt told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.
“Many of the threats [Walker] has reviewed seem to come from ex-military who have chosen to believe that Mr. Walker has stolen valor. But also, there are veterans who have come to Mr. Walker’s aid, of other races. There was this one man, he wants to set up a dinner with fellow veterans and that’s been great. Mr. Walker has been constantly trying to overcome the naysayers and is establishing this effort to try and help some of his fellow veterans,” said Merritt.
NBC News in Dallas-Ft. Worth adds that Merritt said the threats would be gathered and reported to the police.
This is the video clip Walker posted to Facebook after the incident:
NBC News in Dallas-Ft. Worth describes the Veterans’ Day incident as follows:
In an encounter captured on video by Walker and posted to Facebook, the manager asked for Walker’s military ID, which he provided. Walker also provided his discharge paperwork.
Walker said the manager then took his to-go meal.
“I looked around and I’m embarrassed at this point,” Walker said. “People are looking. I’m a soldier. I’m a person and everybody’s looking like I stole food.”
The manager also indicated the service dog was not a service dog, despite having a red service vest and certified service tags.
Walker told NBC he was wearing an Army uniform without name or rank on Veterans Day because “he did not want to be mistaken for an active-duty soldier.”
“I wear this one day a year. I’m not some kook that’s reliving the past,” he said.
This was the most recent of several incidents in which restaurant staff responded inappropriately to certified service animals.
Chili’s made a formal apology on the following Monday:
Today, we personally apologized to Mr. Walker for the unfortunate experience in our restaurant on Veterans Day and thanked him for his service to our country. We also thanked him for taking the time to speak with us and he appreciated our apology.
Our goal is to make every Guest that walks into our restaurants feel special and we fully own that one of our restaurants fell short on an important day where we strive to honor our veterans and active military for their service.
We took swift action and immediately removed our manager from the restaurant. We are now in the process of working with Mr. Walker on a resolution that promotes trust and healing.
Cedar Hill Mayor Rob Franke also issued a statement on the case:
“My concern for the veteran is paramount, but we must also consider the manager and how he can become a better person and perhaps do better the next time he is put in a difficult situation,” Franke said. “People do best and learn the most from experience. To learn requires patience and grace, neither of which can occur in the heat of emotion, demonstration, and anger.”
A GoFundMe page to “Buy Veteran Ernest Walker Dinner” was established and has raised over $6,000 at the time of this writing. Walker has said he wants to use the money to help needy veterans. He was offered season tickets to Dallas Mavericks games by team owner Mark Cuban, who also said he would donate money to feed veterans in need.