Racist Red Lobster receipt may be hoax, analysts say

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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The racial slur a Red Lobster waitress claimed to receive on a receipt in lieu of tip may have been a hoax, according to two separate handwriting analyses.

One handwriting analyst concluded that whoever wrote “none” on the tip line was not the same person who wrote the racial epithet. The second analyst believes the racist comment could have been written by the waitress herself.

Toni Christina Jenkins, a server at a Red Lobster in Franklin, Tennessee, posted a picture on her Facebook page of a receipt with the word “none” written in the area usually reserved for a tip.

Below that, the word “Nigger” was scrawled.

The receipt clearly showed the name of the customer, Devin Barnes, who is white. Jenkins, who is black, said that she was not aware that Barnes’ name was shown on the receipt and posted it online to make a point about racism, not to target Barnes.

“God Bless America, land of the free and home of the low class racists of Tennessee,” wrote Jenkins, a 19-year-old nursing student, on her Facebook page along with the picture.

But Barnes, 20, denied writing the derogatory word.

“I do not approve of the use of that type of talk, not now or ever,” wrote Barnes in a note shortly after the story went viral. As news spread locally and nationally, Barnes also says he received threats.

Barnes, who was dining at the Red Lobster with his wife, did acknowledge that he wrote the “none” portion on the receipt. He said that he and his wife had to leave in a hurry and had to get their food to go.

Barnes’ attorney and pastor, Richard Dugger, hired Thomas Vastrick, an independent handwriting expert who has worked as a specialist for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, to compare the receipt to writing samples provided by Barnes and his wife.

Vastrick determined that it was “more likely than not” that whoever wrote “none” was not the same person who wrote the racist word.

“There is evidence to indicate that Devin Barnes (K-1) did not write the Total entry on Exhibit Q-1,” he concluded.

Dugger said that he plans to file a lawsuit against “responsible parties,” possibly as early as next week.

“It’s scary to think people get away with this kind of stuff,” Dugger told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“I don’t have any plans to do a handwriting analysis,” Jenkins told TheDCNF via email in response to Vastrick’s analysis.

Jenkins now says that she believes Barnes’ claim that he didn’t write the word. She said, “It could’ve been any person in the building”.

A second handwriting analysis was performed, independent of Dugger and Barnes.

“I believe within a reasonable degree of certainty that the waitress actually wrote the word,” said forensic handwriting expert Bob Baier, who examined a sample of writing taken from the waitress’ Facebook account for TheDCNF.

“If you look at the g’s, the e’s, the r’s, they match up,” said Baier. “Those are the most unique writing habits she had.”

Baier did caution that a stronger analysis could be undertaken with a larger sample of Jenkins’ handwriting, as well as original copies.

Jenkins received an outpouring of support in the form of a $10,749 check from an online fundraising effort called Tips for Toni.

Reached by TheDCNF after Baier’s analysis, Jenkins maintained that she did not embellish the receipt.

Asked if she had any plans to share the donation she received with Barnes since she no longer suspects him of writing the word, Jenkins responded, “Honestly I would… if there was any left.”

Jenkins used the money to purchase a car and gave some to her church and her family.

“I don’t see why we can’t come together and stand hand in hand against racism?” wrote Jenkins. “That’s my true wish in this situation. That’s all.”

After the initial posting of the receipt, the student-waitress did receive criticism from those who claimed she fabricated the story.

Some Internet users argued that the handwriting of the two words attributed to Barnes appeared not to be written in the same style.

Though both of the words allegedly written by Barnes began with “n,” one was capitalized while the other was not, Internet sleuths pointed out.

Jenkins was suspended with pay from Red Lobster shortly after posting the picture of the receipt, which is against company policy. Jenkins was reinstated before missing a scheduled shift.

Mike Bernstein, director of media and communications for Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Red Lobster, told TheDCNF through email last month that the company had “extended [Jenkins] a high degree of respect and caring for what has happened.”

“No one should have to endure what our employee went through last weekend,” said Bernstein at the time.

Dugger told TheDCNF that Barnes declined a complimentary meal offered by the Red Lobster restaurant after the incident.

The company did not respond to TheDCNF’s requests for comment after the second handwriting analysis.

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