A still shot from the cell phone video footage of a fight Friday at American Deli shows a customer standing on the counter during the altercation in Leigh Mall. The fight between two employees and three customers reportedly began after one of the customer’s card was declined. Photo by: Courtesy photo
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November 11, 2018 1:39:46 AM
A steady stream of customers waited patiently in line Saturday at American Deli in Leigh Mall when Briana Jackson began her shift at 4 p.m.
Jackson, a 23-year-old assistant manager, and co-worker Yaharra Wright, 22, took and filled orders as normal -- almost as if the night before had never happened.
But on social media, a video of their Friday night melee involving three customers had garnered thousands of shares and well more than 100,000 views just on Facebook in less than 24 hours.
"It's all kind of blurred to me, but my self-defense kicked in," Jackson told The Dispatch on Saturday. "... I work another job besides this one, and people there were asking me about the fight earlier today. A lot of people are talking about it."
A woman eating at another restaurant in the mall took the video and posted it to Facebook. It shows two female customers moving around the outside of the American Deli counter tugging at and exchanging punches with the two employees. All the while, the employees and customers are throwing things across the counter at each other.
At one point, a third woman stands up on the counter and starts punching the employees before she falls off behind the counter as the altercation continues.
A bystander called 911, and Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton said the fight was over by the time officers arrived.
One of the customers was hospitalized after she reportedly suffered a seizure during the altercation, Shelton said. The other four parties involved were not seriously hurt and gave statements to police.
"We advised them all that they could come up to the police department on Tuesday and sign affidavits against each other," said Shelton, noting CPD did not arrest anyone and officers would not investigate the incident as a felony. "That way, they can sort it out in (municipal) court."
How the fight started
The incident occurred sometime between 7:30 and 8 p.m., Jackson said, after a woman's card was declined for a purchase. The woman left and returned moments later with another method of payment that was approved.
However, the woman came back a third time -- this time with her two grown daughters -- to confront the two employees for allegedly talking in front other customers about the first card being declined, Jackson said.
"I told her no one was talking about the card being declined," Jackson said. "Next thing I know, (one of the women) was trying to come across the counter."
Store surveillance footage, which American Deli owner Pan Ken shared with The Dispatch -- representing it as the "beginning of the fight" -- shows Jackson and two women in a verbal altercation before one of the customers tries to punch her, then unsuccessfully attempts to come across the counter.
Jackson steps back, still talking, takes off her jacket, and throws something at a second female trying to come across the counter.
"All of a sudden, I start feeling stuff flying past my head," Jackson told The Dispatch. "So I grabbed whatever I could reach and started throwing it at them."
Wright said she was trying to break up the fight initially, but when the woman stood on the counter and started swinging at her, she admitted to punching back.
"I wasn't scared," said Wright, who has worked at American Deli for three weeks. "I wanted to make sure everyone was safe. ... But I felt like I had the right to defend myself."
Jackson started at American Deli in March, but she said she has worked in customer service since she was 16. In seven years, she said she has dealt with tense conflicts with customers but none ever got physical.
"Sometimes we have people coming up here with attitude, but we know how to handle it," Jackson said. "This was just crazy."
Pen said neither employee involved would face discipline, but he has since advised his staff to involve him immediately if a customer situation looks like it might become violent.
The Dispatch could not obtain the names of the customers involved by press time. Mall manager Gail Culpepper did not respond to a call Saturday seeking comment.
Deanna Brock Graves and her husband Marc, of Caledonia, were eating in the indoor patio area of Hibachi restaurant, in full view of the American Deli counter, when the fight began.
Once punches started flying, Deanna took out her phone and started capturing the video that has since gone viral.
Marc said he started toward the counter to try to help break up the fight -- something a mall security guard had accomplished by the time he made it over there.
"That incident happened so fast, and the police were there, like, three or four minutes later," Marc said.
By the time they made it home, they said the video had already tallied 10,000 views, and that figure continued to soar. As of press time, the video has over 125,000 views and has been shared more than 2,200 times on Facebook. Deanna said she has even received private messages on Facebook from people claiming to be kin to the customers who "call me ugly names."
"I wasn't expecting all that attention," Deanna said. "It's really surprising."
Both said the incident would not deter them from shopping at the mall, though.
"I got a good dinner and a front-row seat to one hell of a fight," Marc said. "It was like going to Dave and Buster's on MMA night."
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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