Editor's Note: The photographs posted on this page are graphic in nature.
Whole Foods has fired a security guard at one of its Oakland locations after photographs of a bloody altercation between a customer and the guard surfaced on Facebook.
Zoe Marks, a fellow at Edinburgh University, was visiting Oakland, when she posted an eyewitness account Thursday of what she described as a “horrific” incident at the Whole Foods Market near Lake Merritt. Marks said the customer "was trying to buy groceries with his EBT card and ended up in a stretcher."
An EBT or Electronic Benefit Transfer card is a replacement for paper food stamps and checks.
“I just saw a young man violently assaulted by an armed security guard at Whole Foods, slammed repeatedly against concrete pillars, put in a chokehold, restrained, and suffocated until he was thrown face down on the pavement unconscious. The guard locked him out of the store despite the fact he was immobile," Marks wrote.
In an email, a spokesperson for the supermarket chain said the security guard, who has been "permanently removed from Whole Foods Market," got involved after the customer made physical contact with a store employee.
Whole Foods Market "takes a zero tolerance approach to violence," the spokesperson said.
Marks's photographs show an unidentified man with a black jacket lying on the floor bleeding. Paramedics can be seen attending to the man in another photograph. According to Marks, not a single employee at Whole Foods called the paramedics. It is not immediately clear what events took place right before the altercation. According to Marks: “He was trying to buy groceries with his EBT card and ended up in a stretcher."
Marks wrote she spent an hour giving a written statement to Oakland police officers who showed up at the scene. Requests for comment from Oakland police were not immediately returned.
“I'm sorry for more graphic images of violence against black citizens, but I was here and spoke to the victim (to keep him conscious), perpetrator, several bystanders, and cops,” Marks wrote. “Armed private guards cannot be tolerated in our grocery stores and communities when this is what they do to paying customers. Whole Foods needs to be held accountable — security is NOT selective, it is collective.”
Whole Foods responded on their Facebook page Friday, admitting “there was an altercation that escalated to violence.”
“The graphic images circulating on Facebook and Twitter are disturbing to say the least,” the statement said. “Whole Foods Market considers the safety and security of all team members, customers and members of our community a top priority. The security guard involved in the incident has been suspended, and we are actively investigating the details with our security firm. While we move swiftly to gather the facts, we want to make it clear that Whole Foods Market takes a zero tolerance approach to violence.”
Marks also posted a one-star review of the 230 Bay Place Whole Foods Market on Yelp: "It's time to disarm your guards and put customers first. This young man was violently assaulted by an aggressive security officer while trying to buy groceries with EBT," her comment, which included the graphic photographs, said.
"Horrified customers stayed on the scene for hours," she wrote, adding that they demanded calls to paramedics and "shouted they would never shop at Whole Foods Oakland again."
"I hope that Whole Foods does reveal their fact finding with transparency," Terry De Grace-Morris wrote on Whole Food's Facebook page. "This kind of behavior by law enforcement personnel is no longer tolerated or excused."