Cobb County police have released video footage and witness accounts of the supermarket spat between state Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, and Mableton resident Eric Sparkes.
Police have ruled out criminal charges in relation to the incident at a Mableton Publix last Friday, releasing a video of the dispute from a supermarket camera, as well as body camera footage from the investigating officer.
Police also publicly released their full investigation report including witness accounts.
At the crux of the matter is whether Sparkes told Thomas to “go back to where you came from” when pointing out to her that she was in the grocery store’s express checkout with more than the maximum 10 items.
This is what Thomas claims he did, using white privilege and racism, which Sparkes denies.
Publix’ footage has no audio but witness accounts suggest it was actually Thomas who told Sparkes to “go back where you came from.”
Thomas and her lawyer claim to have other witnesses who back up her version of events, while Sparkes says he is discussing with lawyers whether to pursue a defamation case against Thomas.
Shortly after the 4:30 p.m. Publix dispute on July 19, Thomas posted a tearful 12-minute video to her public Facebook page, claiming Sparkes threateningly used racism and white privilege to tell her to “go back where you came from” — a phrase popularized by President Donald Trump.
“I’m very upset,” Thomas says between sobs at the start of the video. “Because people are getting really out of control with this, with this white privilege stuff.”
She captioned the video “I’m about to be very transparent because this racism and hate is getting out of control! I feared for my life!”
The video, which has been viewed over 178,000 times and shared over 3,000 times, was followed with a tweet in which Thomas says she was “verbally assaulted in the grocery store by a white man who told me I was a lazy SOB and to go back where I came from.”
That was retweeted about 20,000 times and garnered almost 30,000 comments and over 82,000 likes in following days.
The Publix video but shows Thomas and Sparkes’ minute-long exchange at the checkout, while the investigating officer’s body camera footage shows his interview with Sparkes.
According to investigators, Publix customer service manager Sharanda Murrell told police she heard Thomas continuously telling Sparkes to “go back where you came from” and that Thomas kept “running her mouth” as Sparkes began to leave.
Police said Thomas told them Sparkes was irate and approached her with clenched fists, leading her to fear for her safety and that of her 9-year-old daughter who was with her at the time.
The police report states this is not supported by the Publix video, and that Thomas’ daughter was seen smiling soon after the incident.
“(Sparkes) initially did enter Thomas’ personal space but backed as Thomas moved forward and around the counter towards Sparkes pointing her finger at him,” the report states.
Sparkes says he is a lifelong Democrat of Cuban descent and deplores racism, Trump and the current administration, citing recent Facebook posts in which he condemns such rhetoric.
Sparkes admits he called Thomas a “lazy little b----” because he is sick of people being rude and selfish.
In a Cobb police statement issued Tuesday, concluding the department’s investigation in the case, officers say they provided both Thomas and Sparkes with information on how to contact the Cobb Magistrate Court if they wanted to pursue any further criminal action.
Thomas says she used the express lane despite having about 15 items because she is nine months pregnant and can’t stand for long periods.
Thomas and Sparkes confronted each other again in front of news cameras outside the Publix on Saturday, when Sparkes reiterated he did not tell Thomas to “go back where you came from,” disclosing to reporters he would have voted for Thomas if she was his district’s representative.
Sparkes also said his Latino grandmother raised him, that he was subject to racism as a child and he claims Thomas is merely seeking public attention for her own political gain.
“She blew it out of proportion,” he said. “This woman is playing the victim for political purposes because she is a state legislator.”
In a video of the July 20 press conference outside the Publix, posted online by 11 Alive, Thomas steps in front of a news camera that is filming Sparkes as he tells his version of events.
Pointing her finger at him, she yells “you don’t get the spotlight, you don’t get anything at all because you degraded me and berated me ... and you think you’re going to get away with this, no you’re not, you’re going to jail.”
In the video, Thomas says she is shining a light on the incident for all women of color, and pregnant women, who might be racially targeted by “white men.”
This prompted Sparkes to interject that he is not white.
“I don’t care what you are,” Thomas says to Sparkes in the video. “Yes, you are.”
A part of that video, posted by Thomas on her Twitter page, has been viewed more than 1.1 million times.
In an interview later that day with Channel 2 Action News, Thomas appeared to backtrack slightly.
“I don’t want to say he said ‘go back to your country’ or ‘go back to where you came from,’ but he was making those types of references is what I remember,” she told the station.
Come Monday, Thomas held a press release in the state legislative office building alongside her lawyer, holding firm to her original narrative.
“I want to make sure everyone knows I’m not backtracking on my statement or retracting anything I said,” she told those gathered.
She has not tweeted or posted publicly since Saturday.
Celebrities, activists and politicians helped spread Thomas’ posts on social media through the weekend, with her name and #StandWithErica trending.
Comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted several times in support of Thomas on July 20, using the “IStandWithErica” hashtag.
“I’ve heard enough of Eric Sparkes side,” she tweeted.
Sparkes says he is not on Twitter and was “aghast” when he saw Thomas’ posts through a friend.
Throughout the country, the story became less about the exact words Thomas and Sparkes exchanged at the Publix and more about race and politics in general.
Republicans have been critical of Thomas, claiming she’s using the incident to solicit campaign funds, while Democrats are accusing Trump and his administration of popularizing racist comments about sending people back to where they came from.
On its Facebook page, the Cobb County Republican Party said Thomas was responsible for a “hate hoax” and was trying to “con donors to contribute based on something that didn’t happen.”
In response, the DeKalb GOP added “here is an example of a proud member of the Democrat Party being abused by a Democratic representative.”
The Democratic Party of Georgia weighed in with a “#WeStandWithErica” tweet.
“We stand with you,” the party tweeted. “Trump’s racist rhetoric is emboldening hate across Georgia and our country, while Republicans refuse to denounce it.”