LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Police in southern Alberta are being investigated after a restaurant worker in a "Star Wars" stormtrooper costume who was carrying a plastic gun was forced to the ground and ended up with a bloody nose.
"All the signs say 'Star Wars.' The music that was playing in the parking lot was 'Star Wars,'" said Brad Whalen, owner of the Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina in Lethbridge.
"If a duck's a duck, it's a duck, right. It should have been common sense and it should have stopped there."
Whalen said the 19-year-old employee of the "Star Wars"-themed restaurant had agreed to carry a toy blaster and wear the elaborate white uniform of the soldier of the Galactic Empire to get the attention of people celebrating May 4. The day is popular among fans of the movie franchise because of the famous line, "may the force be with you."
The restaurant, which serves Jabba the Gut pizza and Yoda soda, opened at the end of January and has been struggling due to restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently open again, Whalen was hoping to get some attention by having a stormtrooper walking out front of the business.
It got attention, just not the kind he was looking for.
The Lethbridge Police Service said officers were called to the restaurant Monday morning for reports of a person in a stormtrooper costume carrying a firearm. A news release Tuesday said when officers arrived, the person dropped the weapon but didn't initially comply with directions to get down on the ground.
Whalen disputes the account that his employee didn't obey police commands. When officers arrived, she immediately dropped the weapon and put her hands up, he said.
But Whalen said that the stormtrooper helmet makes it hard to hear and to be heard. It also makes it difficult to move, let alone to kneel or get down on your stomach. Whalen said this may have caused a delay in the employee getting on the ground.
"It's not the easiest thing to kneel down in. You can't even sit down in it. It takes 20 minutes to put on."
Whalen said by that time, police should have been aware that the gun was wasn't real and went with the costume.
A video of the encounter, shared on social media, shows an officer standing by the blaster while Whalen yells from the restaurant door that it's fake.
"It should have been common sense and it should have stopped there. Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. The police chose to escalate it," Whalen said.
Officers forced the employee on to her stomach and she hit her face and her nose started to bleed, said Whalen. In the video, a woman can be heard crying.
Police Chief Scott Woods has reviewed the file and received additional information, including the online video, the police release said. He has directed a service investigation into the officers' conduct and whether they acted appropriately.
The woman in the costume was not charged.
Whalen said he's been contacted by lawyers and is looking at different options.
He said something needs to change in police training to ensure situations aren't unnecessarily escalated.
All employees of the restaurant have been impacted by the encounter, he said, none more so than the woman in the costume.
"Ironically enough, she wasn't a 'Star Wars' fan," Whalen said. "I don't think she will be a 'Star Wars' fan ... if we had any chance to convert her."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2020
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
The Canadian Press