Police Report Disputes Georgia Legislator's Accusation of Racist Incident

Witness says it was Erica Thomas who told man to 'go back where you came from'

Erica Thomas (L) and Eric Sparkes argue the day after their confrontation at a metro Atlanta grocery store / 11Alive News YouTube
July 24, 2019

A witness to the encounter between a black Georgia legislator and a man she accused of telling her to "go back" where she came from told police it was actually the legislator who used that language.

No charges will be filed, police said.

State Rep. Erica Thomas (D.) accused Eric Sparkes on Friday of using the racially charged language during an altercation at a metro Atlanta Publix grocery store. She posted a Facebook Live video where she tearfully recounted a "white man" calling her a "lazy son of a b—h" and that she should "go back where she came from."

"People are getting really out of control with this, with this white privilege," Thomas said. "People need to see the hate that is going on in this country. The hate is real."

However, a Publix employee told Cobb County police that she witnessed part of the conversation and it was Thomas who repeatedly told Sparkes to "go back where you came from." The employee also said she did not hear Sparkes use those words with Thomas, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Sparkes said he only votes for Democrats and is of Cuban descent. He said Thomas was using the incident to further her political career, and he is considering a defamation suit.

Thomas, who is pregnant and was shopping with her daughter, said she feared for her life during the incident, but police reviewed security video and said Sparkes "did not appear to be irate." Sparkes admitted to confronting Thomas for checking out with too many items in a 10-items-or-less line and, after she responded sharply, calling her a "lazy little b—h":

He wrote that Sparkes "did not appear to be irate" during the confrontation and that he quickly retreated from Thomas as she moved his way "pointing her finger at him."

When she moved toward Sparkes a second time, a Publix staffer waved for him to leave and Thomas turned to her daughter and paid for her items, he wrote. The dispute lasted about 45 seconds.

The Publix employee, a customer service manager, told police that after Sparkes accosted Thomas he began to leave but "Ms. Thomas kept 'running her mouth' as she approached him." Sparkes, she said, responded by repeatedly calling Thomas "ignorant."

The employee told the officer that she did not hear either of them use profanity.

Another employee told the AJC he didn't hear Sparkes use the "go back" terminology.

"I’m not going to say that wasn't said, but I don’t remember hearing it," he said. "I’m going to leave it at that."

Thomas's video drew intense media attention. It came after President Donald Trump drew criticism for tweeting that certain minority Democratic congresswomen should "go back" and fix the countries they came from—three of the presumed targets of the tweet were born in the United States.

However, Thomas backtracked 24 hours after the initial accusation, saying in a local TV interview, "I don't want to say he said, 'Go back to your country,' or 'Go back to where you came from.' But he was making those types of references is what I remember."

Thomas and Sparkes also sparred on Saturday in a bizarre parking lot confrontation in front of television cameras, where Sparkes repeatedly accused Thomas of lying about what he said. Thomas told him, "You are going to jail."

Thomas accused him of seeking "five minutes of fame." She tried to shake his hand at another point, and she declared herself "calm" and "OK." Sparkes admitted to using vulgar language against her but flatly denied using the expression "go back."

"I am very happy with myself for standing up for black and brown people all over the nation," Thomas said.

Thomas drew support from Democrats around the country in the immediate aftermath of her Facebook video, and the state Democratic Party said in a statement, "We stand with you Erica Thomas. Trump's racist rhetoric is emboldening hate across Georgia and our country."

Skeptics drew parallels between Thomas and Jussie Smollett, who was arrested in February for perpetrating a fake hate crime against himself in Chicago and blaming it on Trump supporters. The surprising decision to drop the charges against him drew outrage from Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel (D.) and local police, and the matter is under review.

Some Georgia Republicans have called on Thomas to resign if she made up the racist attack, but she stands by her story. Her attorney, Gerald Griggs, said the matter needs further investigation because the witness who said Thomas used the "go back" language didn't hear the initial conversation.