Moral Low Ground


Did a California Taco Bell Lock a Homeless Man in a Dumpster?

Homeless man Josh (L) with new friend Jacob Cook. (Photo: Jon Cook)

Homeless man Josh (L) with new friend Jacob Cook. (Photo: Jon Cook)

A Taco Bell manager in Northern California stands accused of ordering an employee to lock a homeless man inside a trash dumpster Saturday morning, a charge the boss vehemently denies.

The Redding Record Searchlight reports Jacob Cook, a 16-year-old junior at Liberty Christian High School in Redding, said he was waiting in line with his 5-year-old sister at the downtown Taco Bell when he overheard the store manager speaking with an employee about a homeless man named Josh, who was in a dumpster outside.

“The store manager, according to Jacob, instructed the employee to lock the homeless man in the dumpster,” Sharre Whitson, director of community relations at Good News Rescue Mission, a Christian shelter, told the paper.

Cook said the man was locked inside the dumpster for more than an hour.

“I was honestly shocked, because… I’ve never seen someone lock another gentleman in a trash can, homeless or not,” Cook told the paper. “I was actually pretty scared. If I was locked in a dark box for that period of time… it’s just such a scary thing.”

However, Taco Bell manager Darrin Hailey called Cook’s account of events “extremely false.”

“The gentleman was sleeping in the dumpster. We simply closed the dumpster gates… per city ordinance,” Hailey insisted. “The dumpster itself was unlocked at all times… Nothing was locked… the lid has to remain closed or the city fines us a bunch of money,” he told the Record Searchlight.

But Cook, who says he saw the employee close the dumpster using a bar to keep the lid in place, is sticking to his story.

“Josh was banging there and banging there,” he told the paper. “To say this is not true is just appalling to me, and it’s honestly just sad.”

“The [employee] was actually laughing and snickering,” added Cook.

Redding police records note the incident was reported as a homeless man being “discovered by an employee of Taco Bell who closed and locked dumpster enclosure gate, trapping male inside and then threw a bag of trash over the enclosure on top.”

Redding Police Lt. Koby Heston told the Record Searchlight that both Cook and Hailey called 911 over the incident.

“The guy, according to our officer, could have left whenever he felt like it,” Heston told the paper. “I can’t imagine why they would want to lock a guy in place they’d been trying to get to leave. Why would you hold captive somebody that you’re trying to get the police to get rid of? That doesn’t add up. But… this is a weekend crew. I’d have to call the officers to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Heston criticized the homeless man for “being in a restricted area.”

“That’s the story that I think should be reported,” he told the paper. “You know, the guy’s trespassing and took it upon himself to put himself in a dangerous area where garbage is being collected, and you have probably these well-intended employees… so they call the police.”

Redding has been experiencing an increase in homelessness in recent years, with numerous encampments, including a ‘tent city’ a block from Good News Rescue Mission, found throughout the area.

The Record Searchlight reports city trucks picked up at least three dumpsters with people inside of them last year.

Cook told the paper he has become friends with Josh, the homeless man in the Taco Bell dumpster, who he discovered graduated from Liberty Christian as well.

“A friendship has blossomed from this,” said Cook. “Just because he doesn’t have money, doesn’t mean you treat him like nothing. Josh was actually a very kind man. He just touched my life in a lot of ways.”

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