Update: Teens accused of tampering with deputies’ food

OKEECHOBEE — On Saturday, April 27, three employees of an Okeechobee restaurant were fired and then arrested after they were accused of and later seen on video spitting in the food of two uniformed, on-duty, deputies who had stopped in for dinner.

On Saturday, April 27, three employees of the Highway 55 Restaurant were fired and then arrested after they were anonymously accused of and later seen on video spitting in the food of two uniformed, on-duty deputies who had stopped in for dinner. According to the police report, the Okeechobee Police Department was contacted by the owners of the restaurant immediately after they were informed of the incident and had confirmed it through video footage. The owners are reportedly very upset and have been cooperating fully with law enforcement. Detectives Bettye Taylor and Bill Saum are investigating, and Assistant State Attorney Ashley Albright is prosecuting the case.

The three employees, 16-year old Molly Spearow, 17-year-old Alex Armstrong and 17-year-old Logan Pope, allegedly conspired together to spit in the deputies’ food. Armstrong reportedly spit in the food. Pope reportedly knew he spit in the food and allowed it to be served to the deputies, and Spearow reportedly dared Armstrong to spit in the food and then allowed it to be served knowing he had spit in it. All three were charged with violating Florida’s anti-tampering act-Food, a first degree felony, and battery on a law enforcement officer, a first degree felony.

Sheriff Noel E. Stephen stated, “There is no excuse for actions such as this, and it will not be tolerated.”

All three teens were in court Wednesday morning, May 1, for detention hearings and all three asked for and were granted public defenders. Spearow, who is already on probation for a previous charge, will be held in secure detention for 21 days. The public defender argued that there was no proof of ill will, but Mr. Albright told the court both officers had to be tested for infectious diseases, and this is not a laughing matter.

Pope’s parents were in the courtroom and spoke on his behalf. His mother said he had never been in trouble before and his stepfather said if the judge would allow him to come home, he would make sure he stayed home and got another job right away, but the Judge Michael Heisey said he was going to send him to the detention center, too. He told Pope to be careful whom he associated with because sometimes people give you stupid ideas. “Don’t act on them,” he said.

Armstrong had an additional charge of possession of marijuana resin, and there was a problem with his paperwork. He did not have a completed risk assessment before he arrived in court, and Judge Heisey said he could not hold his detention hearing until his paperwork was complete. He was sent to the detention center to have this done.

The community seems to be rallying behind Rachel and Phillip Buxton, who own the Highway 55 Restaurant. Posts on social media are mostly positive in regard to the way they have handled the entire situation, with many expressing gratitude toward the Buxtons for coming forward with the information when some might have chosen to hide it in fear of the backlash for their business. Many have even said they had never been to the restaurant but would be trying it out in the near future.

On the Lake Okeechobee News Facebook page, Rebecca Jordan said, “Thanks, Hwy 55, for taking action and not standing for this type of harassment to law enforcement or anyone in our community.”

Yvette McLaughlin said, “You guys have our support. You cannot control the actions of others and did the right thing when you found out. You are good people trying to make something work and giving a chance to some. The embarrassment should not fall on you guys but on these kids and their families. Keep your heads held high. By the way, we will be coming there soon.

And on The Scoup, Sherry DeWald said, “I commend them for doing what was right and the ones responsible will at least have this on their records.”

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said, “Very unfair to blame Highway 55 for the acts of a couple of demented brats. They were vetted as best one can considering they are high school kids. That’s why they should still allow corporal punishment. If my kids did that I would have worn their ass out. I have eaten there and the food was good, and service was great.”

James Barnhardt said he would eat there again in a heartbeat.

Mary Utt said, “I have to commend the owners for coming forward. This happens at other restaurants, but the owners just fire the employee so it won’t be made public. Good for you, Hwy 55. I will eat there anytime.”

Dottie Wilson said, “I commend them for stepping up, and it is not fair to hold them responsible or to blame them. They did the right thing. Unfortunately, as a manager and business owner myself, screening and doing background checks on hired hands doesn’t always find the bad eggs until it’s too late.”

Although they already have cameras in the restaurant, Mr. Buxton said they plan to add more cameras soon.

According to the police report, Okeechobee City Police Department was contacted by the owners of the restaurant immediately after they were informed of the incident and had confirmed it through video footage. The owners are reportedly very upset and have been cooperating fully with law enforcement. Detectives Bettye Taylor and Bill Saum are investigating, and Assistant State Attorney Ashley Albright is prosecuting the case.

The three employees, 16-year old Molly Spearow, 17-year-old Alex Armstrong and 17-year-old Logan Pope allegedly conspired together to spit in the deputies’ food.  Armstrong reportedly spit in the food. Pope reportedly knew he spit in the food and allowed it to be served to the deputies, and Spearow knew he spit in the food and served it to the deputies. All three were charged with violating Florida’s anti-tampering act-Food, a first degree felony and battery on a law enforcement officer, a first degree felony.

Sheriff Noel E. Stephen stated, “There is no excuse for actions such as this, and it will not be tolerated.”

All three teens were in court Wednesday morning, May 1 for detention hearings and all three asked for and were granted public defenders. Spearow, who is already on probation for a previous charge will be held in secure detention for 21 days. The defense attorney, Mr. Hooper, argued that there was no proof of ill will, but Mr. Albright told the court both officers had to be tested for infectious diseases, and this is not a laughing matter.

Pope’s parents were in the courtroom and spoke on his behalf. His mother said he had never been in trouble before and his stepfather said if the judge would allow him to come home, he would make sure he stayed home and got another job right away, but the Judge Michael Heisey said he was going to send him to the detention center too. He told Pope to be careful who he associated with because sometimes people give you stupid ideas. “Don’t act on them,” he said.

Armstrong had an additional charge of possession of marijuana resin, and there was a problem with his paperwork. He did not have a completed risk assessment before he arrived in court, and Judge Heisey said he could not hold his detention hearing until his paperwork was complete. He was sent to the detention center to have this done and will have his detention hearing on Thursday morning.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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