At noon on Friday at the Centralia’s Santa Lucia coffeehouse, Tessa Alberts served a customer with a troublesome history at the restaurant.
“He ordered a large glass of milk and a biscotti,” she remembered.
Little did she know the owner had ejected the patron a year and half ago. Justin Page believes the man is homeless and mentally ill. He says he'd come in every day, spread his backpack of belongings out on the furniture and the floor, and push the envelope further and further.
“It escalated to the point it would seem like he was pushing our buttons, like trying to get a rise out of us,” said Page. “The final straw with us he was shaving in the bathroom, with the door wide open half naked.”
Page isn't sure why the customer returned Friday, but he and Alberts never predicted what he did when they told him to leave.
“I was standing here [at the cash register] and he threw a wad of paper at me, and it hit me in the chest,” she said. “I opened the piece of paper and I had to put it down.”
It was a copy of a photo of an African American man, who had been hung.
“It was like a kick in the face,” said Alberts, who is also African American.
The act appeared planned and intentionally aimed at the only African American woman in the restaurant.
“Really almost dropped us to our knees,” said Page.
Police came and arrested the man, and because he appeared to have targeted the barista because of her race, he could be facing a charge of malicious harassment, a felony. The cafe staff wonders what they'll do if he's released.
“When you have someone who is this mentally unstable, who this level is of calculated, then you have a real recipe for disaster on your hands,” said Page.
The owner says he'll do everything to protect his staff and his restaurant, including taking out a restraining order against the customer.
The 35-year-old man has a few run-ins with police in the past. But two other restaurants in Centralia say they have never had a problem with him.