A Tacoma server was going to let it go when Cloyd Steiger, a senior criminal investigator with the Washington Attorney General’s Office, scribbled “BLM Button = No Tip” and “That’s how socialism works” on his receipt after she worked his table earlier this month.
“Sometimes people are gonna stiff you. Sometimes people aren’t gonna like you, and that’s OK,” Reese Vincent, 20, told The News Tribune.
It was only after Steiger, a published author and former Seattle Police homicide detective, posted the receipt to his personal Facebook page that she decided to talk.
“It was already spreading,” she said in an interview last week. “It’s not about him not tipping me. It’s not about him even disagreeing with my pin: It’s about the way he acted.”
‘BLM BUTTON = NO TIP’
On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 6, Vincent served Steiger and his wife on the patio at The Fish Peddler, Pacific Seafood’s restaurant on the Thea Foss Waterway. They ordered a round of drinks and calamari. Their exchanges were perfectly cordial, she said, though in retrospect they seemed “standoffish,” she said in a Facebook post recounting the incident.
Still, she didn’t think much of it. Some customers don’t want to chat with their server.
“I could tell after about a second or third trip to his table that he felt weird and out of place and uneasy,” she said in a phone call with The News Tribune.
Opposite the logo on her shirt, Vincent, who is white, was wearing a pin, a black circle with the words “Black Lives Matter” in white block lettering. Though she was the only employee wearing one that day, she said some restaurant workers have worn the buttons frequently for at least two months.
When she dropped the check, she noticed a “Thin Blue Line” flag sticker on his wallet, she said.
Steiger’s lawyer Steve Fogg disputed that detail, saying he was carrying no such visible emblem. Pacific Seafood did not return a request for comment, and spokesperson Lacy Ogan declined to comment further to The Seattle Times last weekend.
According to Vincent, who gleaned details from colleagues who witnessed the event while she was outside the dining room, an “enraged” Steiger, on his way out of the restaurant, yelled at an employee he believed to be a manager, saying that her Black Lives Matter pin offended him. He likened the activist movement against police brutality and systemic racism toward Black Americans to socialism and said he would no longer be a regular at the restaurant.
Fogg said Steiger did not yell in this brief interaction but spoke more harshly than called for.
“He definitely made a mistake,” said Fogg. “He definitely has recognized, even as a private citizen, words have consequences.”
STEIGER ON LEAVE
The situation that ensued led Attorney General Bob Ferguson to place Steiger on administrative leave Sept. 8 as his office investigates the incident, according to a statement from spokesman Dan Jackson.
In addition to his two-plus decades with the Seattle Police Department, two of Steiger’s sons are Seattle officers, one of whom works in the East Precinct, where protests have lingered for weeks and police say officers have been injured. On his Twitter account, Steiger frequently reposts messages with hashtags such as #BackTheBlue and #BlueLivesMatter, a message originally intended to support police but one that has been accused of ties to white supremacy.
On Sept. 13, exactly a week after the Fish Peddler incident, he retweeted a message calling Black Lives Matter “a racist terror-group.”
Had Steiger not posted his annotated receipt to social media, which Fogg said his client realized was ill-advised, Vincent might not have thought twice about the no-tip table. She said the restaurant began fielding phone calls from apologetic people who saw his post, which showed her name and the name of the restaurant. She and colleagues looked him up and discovered he was more than an everyday customer.
“I understand he is an officer. He probably has done good work for people,” she said. That he was offended to the point of causing a scene at a restaurant over a pin gave her pause: “You don’t know where his moral compass is.”
Both parties pointed to freedom of expression as a point of contention.
Said Vincent: “I don’t feel like people understand that regardless of where I work, that’s not gonna change how I feel as a person. What boggles my mind: the fact that he’s so patriotic, he’s a police officer, constitutional rights, et cetera, but I don’t have the right to wear a pin to work? How does that make any sense? I don’t have the right to express myself?”
Said Fogg: “He’s got the right to have whatever reaction he wants to have, but he regrets the manner in which he communicated it.”
As The Seattle Times reported, Steiger was involved with a wrongful conviction in an SPD case that was settled earlier this year. In the ‘90s, he testified against his ex-partner who stole and then returned, $11,000 worth of belongings from a dead Black man’s apartment.
The Attorney General’s investigation into the Fish Peddler incident is ongoing.
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