A Pennsylvania police officer picked up the tab for a couple that refused to sit next to him and his fellow officers at a local diner, and a post about his encounter on social media has garnered attention at a time of strained police-community relations.
Officer Chuck Thomas of the Homestead Police Department told ABC News today that he and three other officers sat down for dinner at the Eat n' Park restaurant last Friday, the day after a shooter in Dallas killed five police officers and injured 11 other people.
"A male and female were going to be seated across from us, and he said, 'I don't want to sit there,'" Thomas said, "which drew my attention, and we made eye contact, and his body language just told me that he wanted nothing to do with police."
"I looked over at him and said, 'You don't have to worry about it. We won't hurt you,'" Thomas said. "He said, 'No, I'm good. I don't want to sit there.'"
A server at the Eat n' Park, Jesse Meyers, told local ABC News affiliate WTAE-TV, "A table goes to sit down, and the guy looks over at one of the police officers and was like, 'Nah, I don’t want to sit here.' So they got moved completely opposite, away from the police officers."
Thomas wrote a brief description of the encounter on his Facebook page.
He said, "We get stuff like this all the time, and you brush it off," but he felt like reaching out after what happened in Dallas.
Thomas said that he wanted to leave the two a note but was unsure how to go about doing so and then decided to pick up their check and scribble a message on the receipt. He wrote that he paid for their dinner and thanked them for their support. He also left a $10 tip.
"What it really came down to was that, ultimately, I just wanted to let them know that we've got to better the relationship between police and the community," he said.
"The day after Dallas, it was tight. You could feel the tension in the air," Thomas added. "A lot of people did come up to us and thank us and shook hands and spoke of their sorrow. This was the only negative experience of the day."
"Ultimately, we're here for you," he said. "This us-against-them mentality that's out here — we've got to change that. We've got to break that."
Thomas said that he paid the tab while he was on his way out and that the server later told him the couple was "thrown back by it" and ended up "chuckling."