By Don Jacobs
The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Related: P1 members sound off — Watch what you eat ... literally
MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — Police officers are told early in their career to beware when eating at fastfood restaurants because their food might be spiced with an item not listed on the menu.
That bit of wisdom served a Morristown Police Department lieutenant well Monday night when he and a partner stopped for dinner at Taco Johns, 2770 W. Andrew Johnson Highway.
Lt. Dan Cliff and Sgt. Nathan Antrican ordered dinner about 7:10 p.m. at Taco Johns and sat down to eat. Cliff, as most officers learn, examined his tacos before chomping down.
"While we were inspecting our food, Lt. Cliff found what appeared to be a small pubic hair in one of his tacos," Antrican wrote in a report. "He then looked at another taco and found another hair in it."
The officers first got their money back, Antrican wrote. Then Antrican went into the kitchen area to determine who had made the tacos.
Under Antrican's questioning, Erick Joshua Ellis, 21, of Talbott admitted he had prepared the tacos.
"After speaking with him, he told me that he did put hairs in the food," Antrican wrote in the report.
Ellis was taken to police headquarters and questioned before being charged with the felony offense of adulterating food. Ellis has a prior arrest history that includes two counts of auto burglary lodged Dec. 10, 2005, according to MPD records.
Morristown Police Chief Roger Overholt said the problem of tainted food "is very common for police officers to deal with."
"A lot of officers sift through their food before eating because of this kind of thing," Overholt said. "We try to tell new officers to eat at places where you can see them prepare the food, but you can only eat so often at Subway."
Overholt also noted the people officers arrest often are confined, because of their criminal histories, to low-paying jobs such as fast-food work.
The chief said several years ago the supervisor of MPD's narcotics and vice unit discovered someone had placed a pill in a grilled chicken sandwich he ordered. Officers couldn't charge the suspect at that time with adulterating the sandwich, but they did find some marijuana on the person when they questioned him.
Bill Pfeiffer, an owner of the Taco Johns in Morristown, said the incident "couldn't have come at a worse time."
Pfeiffer said he was speaking with a national representative from the Taco Johns franchise when Cliff and Antrican approached him with the tainted tacos. The national representative was in town for a ribbon cutting Tuesday at the business celebrating the addition of a breakfast menu at Taco Johns.
"We as a family restaurant have always stressed the highest standards of cleanliness," Pfeiffer said. "This was a devastating incident caused by a renegade employee who may have had something against police officers."
Pfeiffer said he fired Ellis and helped the MPD with its investigation, including preserving the contaminated tacos that another employee almost tossed into a trash can. Pfeiffer, who owns the business with other family members, said he doesn't expect to lose police patrons because of the incident.
"I will not lose business from law enforcement because they know how cooperative I was in the investigation of this terrible incident," Pfeiffer said.
Copyright 2007 Knoxville News-Sentinel
Tenn. man arrested for tampering with officer's food