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Conflicting Accounts Over Grocery Store Dispute Involving Georgia Lawmaker

State Rep. Erica Thomas (center) addresses the media regarding an incident involving another customer on July 19 at a Publix location in Cobb County.
State Rep. Erica Thomas (center) addresses the media regarding an incident involving another customer on July 19 at a Publix location in Cobb County.
Credit Emil Moffat / WABE
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A Georgia state representative and a fellow customer are at odds over what happened at a Publix grocery store last Friday.

The verbal confrontation between Rep. Erica Thomas and Eric Sparkes over the use of an express lane remains under investigation by authorities in Cobb County.

Sparkes said he confronted Thomas about having too many items in the express lane.  He admits using profanity toward Thomas, but he denies that he told her to “go back where she came from,” as Thomas alleges.

Thomas is pregnant and also had her 9-year-old child with her at the time of the incident. At a press conference Monday morning, Thomas said she feared for her safety as she left the store following the altercation.

“Not knowing if this man is still in the parking lot; if this man is still trying to do something. Not knowing and fearing for my life from what I’ve seen all over this country,” Thomas said.

WABE legal analyst Page Pate said unless a specific threat of violence is made, it comes down to a person having  “reasonable” fear.

“Was it reasonable at the time that the person who was on the ‘receiving end’ so to speak, of the words or the gestures, was it reasonable for them to feel like they were about to be seriously injured?” said Pate.

“If you’re just having a verbal altercation with someone, it rarely rises to the level of aggravated assault unless you literally have a weapon in your hands and intend to use it.”

Pate also noted that Georgia does not have a hate crimes law.

There is surveillance video of the incident, but it is not believed there’s any audio of the altercation.

In a scene captured Saturday by television reporters, Sparkes claimed Thomas is using the incident for political purposes. Sparkes said he thought nothing of the exchange until friends alerted him about the publicity it was receiving on social media.

Publix released a statement to WABE on Saturday saying: “At Publix we are committed to creating a safe and welcoming shopping experience for all our customers. We are cooperating with local law enforcement as they look into the matter.”