Star Wars fans all over the world celebrated the series on May 4th ("May the fourth be with you") on Monday. Because it's a Star Wars-themed pizza joint, Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina in Alberta took advantage of the occasion to drum up more takeout business by having an employee stand outside the restaurant dressed as an Imperial stormtrooper.
Then the police showed up.
Owner Brad Whalen told Reason that he had a costumed employee stand in front of the restaurant to generate buzz and encourage passersby to order from the restaurant, which is desperate for business due to COVID-19 rules preventing eat-in dining.
The employee was only outside for about an hour when officers with the Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) showed up. Apparently, two onlookers called 911 to report the employee for holding a plastic replica of a stormtrooper blaster.
A viral video captured the events after their arrival.
— ☠️ L̶i̵l̷i̶t̴h̷ ̴L̷o̷v̶e̵t̷t̷ ☠️ (@LilithLovett) May 6, 2020
Several officers are seen drawing weapons, walking towards the costumed employee, and ordering her to get on the ground.
A statement by LPS said the employee "dropped the weapon but did not initially comply" with the orders. Whalen disagrees with the statement, saying the video is "very clear" that she was compliant. Whalen also notes that the hard plastic costume makes it difficult enough to sit down, let alone kneel.
In the video, the employee can be heard sobbing through her helmet as she attempts to kneel and get down on the ground.
"It could have been very simple and over at that point in time, but the city police here decided that they were going to escalate it and be physical with her," Whalen says.
The LPS statement goes on to say that the employee "sustained a minor injury," but does not provide any further information. Whalen tells Reason that the officers pushed her face down and ended up cutting her nose on the helmet, and that was after they had already determined that the gun was fake.
The employee was handcuffed but was ultimately not charged with a crime.
LPS will not comment any further on the incident, but Chief Scott Woods said in the statement that an investigation is underway.
"We don't have too much faith in the local police service to investigate themselves," Whalen says. He has since called for the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), an independent investigation agency, to look into the encounter.
While the events have affected the female employee and Whalen's business, he says he's appreciative of the outpouring of support from all over the world. Fellow fans have flocked to the restaurant's Facebook page to share their own cosplay pictures and leave encouraging messages for the employee. Others promised to order pizza the next time they were in town or have donated to the restaurant's GoFundMe to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.