MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – A man, who homeless advocates say is mentally ill, was kicked out of a Murfreesboro store and arrested for trespassing.
Ronald Joseph Beard, 25, known as Joe to his friends, was arrested October 22 by Murfreesboro police for criminal trespassing at the ALDI store on Robert Rose Drive.
Apparently a customer originally complained the man appeared to be a terrorist, according to advocates. A Facebook post detailing the situation has been shared more than 7,300 times.
Homeless and mentally ill advocates are now hoping to get “Justice For Joe.”
“It’s the system,” said homeless advocate Delena Hayes. “It’s the perception, it could have been anybody, it just happened to be ALDI that day.”
Hayes was there the day Beard was arrested. “He was shopping, I was shopping,” she told News 2.
She said she explained to police and a shift manager that Joe had a mental disability, and she was willing to remove him from the property.
“It was up to her to whether or not to press charges,” Hayes said. “I explained to her Joe’s disabilities in detail so that she can make a decision that could be just, and she decided to go ahead and press charges.”
According to the arrest report obtained by News 2, a shift manager told police she had received reports that Beard had been bothering customers and had spent over four hours in the bathroom.
Apparently, Beard was asked not to return to the property on a previous occasion. Advocates said his appearance apparently frightened some customers.
“He was wearing a backpack, he’s a tall guy, he has a big beard. Someone called the police thinking he might be a terrorist, when he was just a disabled man trying to purchase some items.” said Jason Bennett with Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, a group that makes sure the homeless has a warm place to sleep on cold nights.
“The customer inside ALDI called the police and said that they did not feel safe because there was a man that was in the store who appeared to be a terrorist because he had a long beard and was carrying around a backpack.”
Hayes said Beard suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle accident when he was young.
Advocates said they’re not here to start a fight with ALDI. They would, however, like the charges against Beard to be dropped.
“We can do more to protect people that are disabled, we can do more to serve people who are disabled, and I think the ball was dropped in this incident,” Bennett said.
Bennett said there are bigger issues, society’s treatment and fear of people with mental disabilities.
“I would also like to see awareness about people that are different that we are,” Bennett said. “It’s not always; it’s rarely something dangerous going on.”
Troy Marshall with ALDI released a statement Monday afternoon that read,
Please know the safety of all of our customers and employees is one of our top priorities. In this situation, our store management followed the direction of local law enforcement in addressing other customers’ concerns. ALDI is working to have the charges against this individual dropped. We apologize for any confusion on this matter and thank the local community for bringing this situation to our attention.