This pepper spray incident at QFC was caught on camera (Image: Tim Durkan with permission to CHS)
A war zone. That’s how Mathew Chandler describes working at the Broadway Market QFC. Nearly every day police are called to the Capitol Hill grocery store for reports of an assault or harassment. According to Chandler, most of the disturbances are caused by people who are intoxicated, mentally ill, or both and QFC staff are often the first to respond. And without off-duty cops around to help, those involved say it’s a dangerous situation for employees — and shoppers.
“There are a lot of the same locals that refuse to respect the store and refuse to stop coming in,” said Chandler, who works as a clerk and assistant manager. “They know we’re virtually powerless to do anything about it.”
Also for sale in front of QFC — heroin, $8 (Image: Tim Durkan with permission to CHS)
On August 12th, Chandler was about to clock out for the night when a man entered the store and began swearing at customers. When Chandler approached, the man threatened to beat him up. Eventually Chandler escorted the man out of the store.
Once outside, the man threatened to kill Chandler with a champagne bottle he was holding. According to police reports, Chandler warned the man he would mace him if he came any closer. When the man raised the bottle over his head, Chandler sprayed him.
“In the heat of the moment I just wanted to get the situation under control,” Chandler told CHS.
The man did back down and was arrested for harassment. However, due to a company policy against carrying mace while on the clock, Chandler says he was suspended for a week and had three days of pay withheld.
A QFC representative told CHS she could not comment on the incident, Chandler’s suspension, or the company’s policy regarding employees carrying pepper spray.
Chandler has been an employee with QFC for nearly nine years, mostly working in stores on the Eastside and in North Seattle. He said inadequate security in the store due to replacing off-duty police officers with private guards led him to carry mace that night. The QFC representative also declined to comment on the use of private security guards over off-duty officers. QFC is a subsidiary of Kroger.
The daily incidents are a constant stress on QFC workers, Chandler said
“For the most part we just try to console each other and be there for each other,” he said. “It’s emotionally and physically and mentally taxing.”
Stressful and occasionally violent situations aren’t uncommon for Chandler in his other job as a bouncer. He said he’s worked security for Neumos and for the Capitol Hill Block Party.
“Being a bouncer should not be less stressful than working at a goddamn grocery store,” he said.
And without better security, Chandler wants QFC to change its policy against employees carrying mace. “Something really bad could happen and at that point it could be too late,” he said. “I don’t want to see anyone get hurt or anyone get killed.”
UPDATE: To see if the situation is getting worse, we pulled East Precinct data for the block from 2014 through this August. So far, the monthly totals for total dispatches are on the same pace as 2014. We’ve also provided a breakdown of the various types of incidents SPD ultimately is called to respond to on the block.