By Karen Stokes
On Friday, Oct. 23, a group of concerned citizens gathered at the Save-A-Lot grocery store, 6201 N Teutonia Ave, to support the family of a 13-year-old boy with autism, Deontay Farr, who was wrongly accused of shoplifting.
On Aug. 31, Deontay, with his mother Deon Farr, experienced a highly offensive encounter with a security guard during a routine visit to Save-A-Lot. According to one account, Farr wrote on social media, she was packing up groceries and was “startled” as they were leaving. The security guard blocked the door and wouldn’t let Deontay and his mother leave the premises unless the guard saw what was under Deontay’s shirt. She explained to the guard that her son was autistic. Deontay not only lives with autism but also Crohn’s Disease. What Deontay was embarrassed to show under his shirt was a colostomy bag. She lifted her son’s shirt to show what was underneath. The store was crowded, full of strangers which made the experience of exposing something so private, humiliating. No apologies were offered.
“Everyday my son mentions the incident that took place and now he doesn’t want to go in any store,” Farr explained. “Everything we worked so hard in getting our child to overcome has been diminished in less than 30 minutes.”
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex cognitive developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects different individuals differently and to varying degrees. Renee Logee, Fund Development Manager, Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin, stated, “One in every 68 children are diagnosed with ASD. One in 54 boys are diagnosed with autism.”
The situation led Farr to write letters to store management. She saw no results. She then took her struggle to social media where the community and activist Andre Lee Ellis rallied together and helped organize a press conference for awareness of the situation with Deontay.
Before the Oct. 24 press conference, radio station WNOV 860 reported on the August incident and Deon WNOV 860 reported on the August incident and Deon Farr’s work via social media since then to spread autism awareness.
“I found out about this on Facebook. We got to get involved and people from Save-A-Lot were not responsive, but we got a little tough. We can’t let them treat our children anyway they want to,” Ellis said. “So Dave Hoalt, the store owner came forward and he was ready to help. Today, we come together for what could have been a very ugly situation turn into something beautiful.”
“A week ago, I became aware of this unfortunate incident and I want to apologize for that,” said Hoalt at the press conference. “I met with Deon and Deontay and talked about things we could do like training for our people and handing out information on autism.”
Hoalt then presented Deon and her husband Mykel Farr a check from the company for $5,000 for their charity “Steppin 4 Autism”.
“The charity is special to me. We have three people in our family with Autism,” Hoalt said.
Senator Lena Taylor pre-sented a proclamation from the State of Wisconsin which declared October 23, 2015 as Deontay Farr Day. The citation proclaimed that Deontay was a catalyst to bring about change in an area where so much change and awareness is needed.