Teen accused of leaving noose in Panera restroom won’t face charges

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 8, 2023

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GROSSE POINTE CITY — A youth who left a noose made from paper towels in the men’s restroom at Panera in the Village Dec. 30 will not be facing charges.

The suspect, a 15-year-old boy from the Grosse Pointes, had been facing possible hate crime charges in the incident, but officials with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office announced March 3 that they weren’t issuing a warrant because there was insufficient evidence to charge the suspect with a crime.

According to a press release, the state’s ethnic intimidation statute “requires specific intent to intimidate or harass a person/persons based upon race, color, religion, gender or national origin. … The fashioning and leaving a paper towel noose in a public place without additional evidence of intent to threaten or intimidate persons based on the enumerated factors in the statute is lacking in this case.”

The suspect was one of a group of four male high school freshmen who had been in the restroom vaping when the suspect made the noose, hanging it from a stall in the restroom. The noose has long been a symbol of racism and hate because it represents the lynching of African Americans. It isn’t clear whether the suspect, who is white, understood the history behind this symbol.

Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Director John Alcorn, whose officers identified the suspect within days of the incident, said the suspect responsible for creating the noose talked to police at first but then stopped speaking with them on the advice of the family’s attorney.

“We did interview (the four male youths) initially, and we were able to speak with the young man who was involved in tying the noose,” Alcorn said.

Police investigating the incident were unable to ascertain that the suspect’s actions were directed at a specific individual or group of individuals. The Panera employee who discovered the noose is Black, but it wasn’t clear whether the noose was targeted at him or anyone else; Alcorn said police didn’t find any graffiti or a note in the restroom that might have referenced a specific individual. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Juvenile Unit reviewed the evidence that police collected to make its charging determination.

“Although this decision may upset some, we must follow the current laws on our books when making a charging decision,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a prepared statement. “In this case, we thoroughly evaluated the police investigation and looked at every applicable law. This office strives to charge only cases that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the criminal, legal standard, and that simply cannot be met here.” 

Police reached out to the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods Branch of the NAACP for assistance.

“They were great,” Alcorn said. “We wanted to show as much support (as possible) for the employees at Panera.”

Alcorn and Grosse Pointe City Manager Peter Dame “met with leaders from the local NAACP chapter at Panera to show that we were taking this seriously,” Alcorn said.

He said they told employees that if any of them felt uncomfortable, they “can call (the Public Safety Department) at any time.”

Alcorn said police also wanted to talk to the suspect about the impact of his actions, but the suspect’s parents decided to handle this conversation themselves.

“We wanted for (this) to be a teachable moment,” Alcorn said. “We reached out to the family (of the suspect), and they said they were doing that but doing that as a family.”

Since the noose incident, Alcorn said his officers have increased their already-active patrols in the Village and are going into Panera more often.

“We’ll keep up our extra patrols to be vigilant,” Alcorn said.

At press time, he said this appeared to have been an isolated incident, as nothing similar has happened since the noose was discovered Dec. 30.

And they hope to keep it that way.

“What we want people to know is, not having charges (filed) does not mean the behavior is OK,” Alcorn said.

If anyone encounters anything similar in the City, he said they should contact the Public Safety Department immediately so that officers can investigate.

“The City of Grosse Pointe condemns this act,” Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak said in a statement in early January. “This is a hate crime that is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our community. The noose, which is a symbol of human oppression and violence, has no place here.”