A Chinese restaurant owner broke down sobbing after he learned that his son had mistakenly told a group of Washington sheriff's deputies that law enforcement officers were not welcome.
The misunderstanding happened Thursday, when four Skagit County sheriff's deputies stopped into Lucky Teriyaki restaurant in Sedro-Woolley, reported KIRO-TV.
The deputies said the owner asked them to leave as two of them were paying their bill, saying they were no longer welcome there because they upset other customers.
The chief deputy said the owner later confirmed the account by phone, and Sheriff Will Reichart then called for a boycott in a Facebook post.
"The owner not only repeated the request but asked that we spread the word to other law enforcement that they were no longer welcome either," Reichart posted. "I understand a business owner has a right to refuse service if he wants to. I also understand that as customers we all have the right to find some other restaurant to take our lunch break in."
The social media post was widely shared, and the restaurant owners said they've received death threats and other harassing phone calls since the sheriff posted his complaint.
But it all may be based on a miscommunication.
KIRO-TV sent a reporter to the restaurant after the sheriff's Facebook post went viral, and he noticed the owner didn't seem to understand his questions very well.
So he put the man in touch with another reporter who speaks Mandarin, and the owner wept when he found out what had happened.
He explained through the interpreter that the deputies had been seated near another group who spilled soup and water, and they appeared to be agitated and argumentative.
The son was concerned the deputies had made the other customers uncomfortable, and he asked them in broken English if they were about to leave when they paid their check.
"Police not welcome here," the son told the deputies.
Natasha Chen, the Mandarin-speaking reporter, asked the owner and his son if they understood that another deputy had tried to clarify what had happened.
The son said he didn't understand the questions, and may have just answered "yeah" to all of them.
The owner, Xuechuang Li, said they simply replied "okay" when angry callers deluged them with complaints and threats.
The sheriff posted an update Friday afternoon on the department's Facebook page, saying he had spoken to the owner and his son about the miscommunication.
"They apologized for the incident that made news yesterday, and expressed their desire to accept everyone to their business, including law enforcement officers associated with all offices and departments," the sheriff said. "I told both father and son that I was appreciative and grateful for their willingness to once again welcome everyone to visit their restaurant. And that it was my hope that this matter can quickly be put behind us all."
The sheriff thanked everyone "who expressed support for law enforcement" and asked them to "accept that this matter has been resolved to our satisfaction."
Someone commenting under the department's log-in dismissed the possibility in a previous posting that the owner's son didn't understand what he was saying.
Li and his son are offering free food Monday to law enforcement officers in hopes of straightening out the misunderstanding.
"Yeah, I want police coming," the son said.
"He means welcome for police officers to come over here," Li said.
Watch this video report posted online by KIRO-TV:
Update: Added information about the sheriff's meeting with the restaurant owner and his son.