Indiana apple orchard in hot water after claims of discrimination
County Line Orchard in Hobart, Ind. | County Line Orchard Facebook

CHICAGO—An Indiana apple orchard is facing claims of discrimination after ejecting a group of LGBTQ individuals over an incident that started as a dispute regarding a service animal. On Saturday, Oct. 7, a group traveled to Indiana from Chicago to visit the County Line Orchard for a day of apple picking. Before entering the facility, LaSaia Wade was approached by a number of staff members about her dog. According to Wade, she was eventually given verbal clearance by four different staff members to take the dog with her before the group proceeded to purchase their ticket and wait in line.

It was during this time that the same employees who cleared the group for entrance, according to Wade and others in the group, called the police. Within less than two minutes, Officer Ahmad—a member of the Hobart Police Department, hired by County Line Orchard for private security—arrived at the scene. The viral video, which documented the group’s ejection, starts shortly after Ahmad approaches them. The footage reveals Wade sitting calmly next to her dog, who is also sitting next to her silently, as she is ordered to vacate the premises.

Although Wade states that she provided documentation for her service dog by showing a photo of the certification on her phone, the group was told they must leave under direct orders from County Line management. At one point in the video, the officer says, “The owners of this property no longer want you on the property. If you refuse to leave again, you’re going be arrested for criminal trespassing.”

LaSaia Wade, a Black trans activist from Chicago, and a group of friends claim that they faced discrimination and police intimidation when visiting the County Line Orchard in Indiana. | PW file photo

Though Wade and the group initially try to facilitate dialogue with the officer, Wade can be heard trying to ask a question before being cut off mid-sentence, “’I’m just letting you know right now. You need to leave right now or you will be arrested for criminal trespassing.”

After some attempts to engage, Wade and the rest of the accompanying group are escorted off the property, passing a long line of customers on the way out. Wade can be heard expressing discomfort and anxiety throughout the situation, but seems fully cooperative while being escorted out.

Despite Wade’s claim that she was given permission to be on the property by four staff members, County Line Orchard says it has a strict “no-dog” policy. In an internet response, which has been passed around to several unaffiliated parties who reached out to the orchard, County Line says, “For the safety and concern of our guests, young children, associates, and farm animals, it is the policy of County Line Orchard not to permit dogs or other pets on the grounds.”

The message indicates that there have been “multiple incidents where dogs or pets have become agitated due to interaction with crowds, petting zoo animals, and/or farm equipment” at the orchard. County Line also states that its staff “found this group to be uncooperative in regards to information about their pet being a service dog.”

Federal law requires businesses and other public venues to allow service dogs entrance, even if they normally do not allow dogs, upon their owner answering what tasks or services the animal performs. Under guidelines issued by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, however there are exceptions that are not covered, such as emotional support dogs.

Collins’ stiff response stands in apparent contradiction to a voicemail left on the phone of one of Sade’s friends by County Line co-owner Ryan Richardson on October 8. Richardson states, “I understand we didn’t handle the situations with you guys and your friends and your group very well,” before insisting that the company would just like the “opportunity to apologize” for the incident that led up to their ejection.

Since the video of the group’s ejection went viral, it has accumulated over 500,000 views and thousands of comments—a number of them being directly targeted at Wade herself. Members of the group have been receiving public and private statements of harassment, including various death threats.

Sorting through the hate mail, the group is keeping focused on exposing what they believe is a history of discriminatory practices by the apple orchard. The consensus among the group was that a large part of the reason they were targeted during their visit was because Wade is a black woman. “We believe that if this were a white person, the situation would have been handled much differently, and the police may not have even been called,” said Hannah Jones, one of the members of the group who was also ejected.

Though they place blame largely on County Line management, Wade and her associates believe it also exemplified needless escalation on the part of police. “The fact that the officer did not answer LaSaia’s questions, did not look at her official animal documents, threatened to arrest her for criminal trespassing,” Jones said, “are all signs that the situation was not handled properly.”

In a joint statement, several members of the group said, “The orchard’s request for police intervention and the responding officer’s aggression was the first example of how excessive reliance on police escalates situations and places marginalized people in danger.”

Although the onslaught of online attacks continues, Wade is sticking to her version of the story and wants to let the facts speak for themselves. She and other members of the group that were evicted are seeking legal resources and hope that a resolution can be met.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias is a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias has invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. She has written and conducted research in several parts of the world; most recently Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she presented on disability awareness at the U.S. Consulate. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities. She considers her experiences a privilege, one that she hopes to use as a platform for spreading socio-political consciousness. In her spare time Michelle enjoys drinking pricey wines and watching old school zombie flicks.  

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