A post-St. Patrick's Day gathering at a ramen shop on W. 7th Street quickly escalated into an altercation that resulted in the restaurant's manager using pepper spray on seven patrons. Both sides later filed police reports.
The group of patrons included two members of Mayor Melvin Carter's executive staff. The way that John Keenan, Tori Ramen's general manager, remembers it, the group was trouble from the beginning.
"By the time the first few walked in the door, I could tell there was going to be an issue," Keenan said. "They were all very drunk and loud."
To Krystle Cruz Williams, director of business engagement in Carter's office, it was Keenan who was the problem. Describing him as rude, unwelcoming and quick to pull out the pepper spray, she wrote in an email that she hopes others won't "have to endure this type of treatment in our public spaces."
Some facts aren't in dispute. At about 11:30 p.m. on March 17, a group showed up at Tori Ramen looking for a table. As a DJ played music, the group waited in the bar area.
After that, things got heated.
According to Keenan, three men — one of whom was very drunk — went to the restroom, where they banged on stalls and made jokes. He said he confronted them for being rude and disrespectful. "One guy became very belligerent," he said, when he ask them to leave.
Cruz Williams said it was Keenan who was belligerent. In a police report she filed days later, she said Keenan asked, "Do you think you guys are the only [expletive] people in here?"
She wrote in an email Friday that "in the 15-20 minutes we were in the restaurant ... it was clear to us we were not welcome."
It was when Keenan threatened to use pepper spray to make people leave that things escalated, she said. Cruz Williams, whose 17-year-old daughter was in the group, said she was trying to de-escalate the situation.
But Keenan said he reacted to Cruz Williams raising a fist.
"The woman [Cruz Williams] gets a foot away from me and says, 'We're leaving, but how you handled this is unacceptable.' And her fist goes back," Keenan said. "I'm at work. I'm not getting into a fight when I'm at work. So I sprayed. Then a girl lunged, and I sprayed her. Then a guy lunged, and I sprayed him."
It wasn't until afterwards that Keenan learned two of the group — Cruz Williams and Kamal Baker, Carter's spokesman — were city employees.
Baker, Keenan said, was the only person in the group who tried to calm things down. "He put himself between them and me and tried ushering them out the door," Keenan said.
Cruz Williams called him the next day, Keenan said, and wanted to meet with his boss. While Cruz Williams did not identify herself as a city employee, Keenan said she told him city workers had been pepper-sprayed. Keenan said he found out her position after Googling her name.
On Friday, Cruz Williams said she never identified herself as a city employee, calling Tori Ramen "from my personal cell phone to make sure the owner was aware that a worker of their establishment verbally accosted and then pepper sprayed me and members of my group."
No one was arrested.
Peter Leggett, Carter's chief of staff, confirmed in an email Friday that two city workers "in their personal lives" were among seven people who had been pepper-sprayed at Tori Ramen.
"There have been no communications by any city worker, either via official city channels nor acting in an official capacity related to this matter," he said.
Keenan said that after 14 years working in the neighborhood, the incident barely rates as memorable.
"In my career, this was probably the most mild thing I've encountered on St. Patrick's Day," he said.