On 15 December 2015, a West Richland, Washington police officer’s wife started a social media controversy involving a local Circle K convenience store after she posted on Facebook that a cashier refused to serve her husband.

Local news station KEPR described the controversy as something West Richland Police would “rather put behind them,” reporting:

A West Richland cop says he was denied service at a Circle K, because he was an officer.

An off duty cop, Duane Olsen, out of uniform walked into a Circle K, across the street from the West Richland Police Department Tuesday say officials.

He says when he went to check out, the woman behind the counter asked Olsen if he was a cop.

He said yes, and she pushed the items aside saying she’s not serving police.

According to the local news outlet, public outrage over the incident has caused significant problems for the department, sparking so much controversy that the West Richland Police Department had to hold a press conference about it:

Captain Majetich said social media is blowing it out of proportion and forced them to hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon, asking the public to calm down.

“We do not believe this is reflective on Circle K or any of its businesses. We’ve had a great relationship with this store and all its employees. This happened to be one employee who was at the time very upset and emotional over a previous incident with police 2 days prior and it just so happened she took it out on this particular officer,” said Captain Ben Majetich during the press conference.

According to the Tri-City Herald, the unnamed female clerk had been arrested during a traffic stop a few days prior over an “outstanding misdemeanor warrant.” Captain Majetich emphasized that the decision was likely based on emotion and unreflective of the chain’s attitude toward police officers:

On Wednesday, Circle K officials apologized for “this unfortunate incident and the inappropriate actions taken by our employee.”

“All of (the company officials) … have been extremely apologetic over the whole incident,” Majetich said. “From the onset, we do not believe this reflective on Circle K or any of its businesses.”

The woman had been arrested a few days earlier during a traffic stop for an outstanding misdemeanor warrant, Majetich said.

“This happened to be one employee, who, at the time, was very upset and emotional,” he said.

According to Captain Majetich, the officer’s wife’s post led to a flood of calls, adding the department “would have preferred that Olsen tell a superior officer about the incident, who could then have dealt directly with Circle K managers.” He said:

We’re not advocating anything … Our intent was never to take this public.

Circle K regional operations director Dan Dobson issued a statement about the controversy, apologizing for the incident and thanking the West Richland Police Department for its work within the community:

Please be assured that Circle K takes these types of incidents very seriously and we are currently investigating this matter and dealing with it in accordance with our company practices. We value our relationship with the West Richland Police Department and truly appreciate the fine work they do within our community. Circle K prides itself on giving great customer service and treating all of our patrons with respect. We apologize for this unfortunate incident and the inappropriate actions taken by our employee. Please know that this employee’s behavior in no way reflects Circle K’s attitude toward this well respected and hardworking police force. It is our privilege and pleasure to serve them and they, as well as patrons, are always welcome at our stores.

The Circle K police service controversy was one of several social media-based incidents in 2015 that proved to be a public relations nightmare for brands accused of snubbing officers. Among them was a September 2015 controversy at a Florida Arby’s wherein a female officer claimed she was refused service (but in actuality felt unwelcome and left), another in which an officer alleged he was ejected from an Olive Garden, and an incident after which a Whataburger employee was fired for joking about not serving cops. In late 2014, social media users mounted a campaign against Chipotle after an employee in Brooklyn was observed exhibiting a “hands up, don’t shoot” as several police officers entered the restaurant; they left without ordering food.