(Photo: Google maps Screenshot)
Members of a Florida church are protesting an A&G Restaurant in Winter Haven that they say treated two female parishioners overly harshly after the women were arrested last month on allegations that they left the restaurant without paying.
After a mother-daughter lunch at the restaurant on Jan. 14 Ruthena Lewis escorted her mother to the car before returning inside, ostensibly to pay.
But according to police reports, after restaurant staff member Crystal Henson charged Ruthena's credit card, it was declined. Hensen told police that Lewis held the cancel button down while she attempted to process the card.
After the transaction did not go through, Ruthena reportedly threatened the A&G employee's salvation, telling [Hensen] that if she gave them the meal for free she would go to heaven. If [Hensen] ran the credit card again, she would go to hell," the police reported stated.
According to a Newschief.com report, Ruthena then handed the clerk a business card with the information of Joseph Lewis, a bishop at Church of God the Bible Way in Winter Haven, and then walked out of the restaurant and drove off. Before she pulled out, restaurant employees took her car's license number and gave it to local police.
Willie Lewis, Ruthena's mother, had $80 in her purse when she was arrested, stated the police report.
By the time that Joseph, a regular customer at the establishment, arrived and paid the $18.14 bill, Ruthena and her mother had been arrested.
"I left work and came up and asked them how much the bill was. I paid the bill and I left a tip and they said they would not press charges because the bill was paid," said the church leader.
Joseph also claimed that after he paid, George Paragios, the restaurant's owner, informed him that he would ask police to drop charges against the Lewis women.
But several days later on Jan. 18, a police report said that Paragios "advised [authorities] that he wanted to continue with the charges, and refused to sign the [waiver of prosecution]" and told the police that the women had been "cursing and causing a disturbance," information that had been ommited from the initial police report.
Frustration over the charges levied at the women led members from Lewis' church to demonstrate last Wednesday morning in front of the restaurant. Church members toted signs discouraging individuals from patronizing the restuarant, because they argued that it had unjustly arrested the elderly Willie.
"I just didn't understand why it had to go to all of this," Willie told Bay News, denying that she and her daughter had robbed the restaurant.
"I felt kind-of bad about it because we have lived here for years, and we would never go into anybody's restaurant and eat and come out and don't pay," she added.
Natasha Anthony, a waitress at A&G, was less sympathetic.
"The law is the law whether you're 25 years old or 85 years old," she said.
The Lewis women are expected to return to court on March 4, though Brian Haas, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, suggested that the case could be resolved beforehand.
Because neither women have previous records, they will likely only be fined for their actions.
It is unclear if Joseph Lewis and Ruthena and Willie Lewis are related.