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Viral video sparks social media fury after Merced store owner argues with fruit vendor

Merced CA grocery owner caught fighting with vendor

Video footage taken Saturday May 4, 2019, on the sidewalk near Grocery Outlet in Merced CA appears to show a grocery store employee on video yelling at a fruit vendor before knocking the man’s products to the ground.
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Video footage taken Saturday May 4, 2019, on the sidewalk near Grocery Outlet in Merced CA appears to show a grocery store employee on video yelling at a fruit vendor before knocking the man’s products to the ground.

A Merced woman caught a grocery owner on video confronting a fruit vendor before the man’s products were knocked to the ground, according to the footage recently shared online.

The footage was taken through the window of a car at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday on the sidewalk near Grocery Outlet, according to Areli Duran, who shared the video and a photo she took on Facebook.

She said she had just finished shopping at the store.

“I was packing up my car and I wasn’t sure what was going on,” she said, describing the confrontation. “I thought he was buying fruit.”

Then the man, who was wearing a Grocery Outlet T-Shirt, knocked the strawberries and mangoes to the ground while screaming at the vendor, she said. “I was shocked he did that,” she said.

A number of readers shared the video with the Sun-Star through Facebook. “This made my blood boil,” one woman said in a direct message.

The Grocery Outlet corporate office said each store is run independently by its owner. The owner of the Merced location, Mike Bodwell, confirmed he’s the man who confronted the vendor in the video.

In an email to the Sun-Star on Wednesday, Bodwell indicated the social media video doesn’t tell the whole story.

Bodwell said he instructed the vendor to leave several times, saying he was not authorized to be there. Bodwell, who owns the store with Noelle Bodwell, said the vendor was “verbally abusing management and harassing our customers” on private property.

“When he would eventually leave the property, he would return a short while later. This continued over several hours,” Bodwell said in an emailed statement. “In the process of escorting him from our parking lot to the public sidewalk off property, his basket inadvertently tipped over. This was an unfortunate ending to what was already an unpleasant scenario.”

Duran said she got out of her car and asked the vendor if he needed help. Duran said he looked confused and it was clear he had been crying.

The vendor said he comes into Merced from Oakland and his boss drops him off to sell fruit. He hadn’t been to the Main Street location before, he told her in Spanish, she said, and didn’t know what the man was yelling at him in English.

“(The vendor) said that was the only time he was there,” she said. “He didn’t know anything about the place or if it was OK. That’s what he told me.”

Two other witnesses approached the vendor, she said, adding one witness gave the vendor $20. The vendor didn’t want to call police despite the witnesses urging him to, Duran said.

Merced Police Lt. Jay Struble said the confrontation was not reported to officers, but said he has seen the video. He said the incident was handled poorly by all parties.

“They need to call us instead of just going to social media,” Struble said.

If the vendor refused to leave, Bodwell should have called police, Struble said. If Bodwell touched the vendor, he could face assault charges and could be held accountable for vandalism if he damaged the fruit, Struble said.

Bodwell said he’s owned the location for about four years.

“We support our community through several partnerships with organizations that help feed local families in need,” he wrote in the email. “The health and well-being of our customers is our number one priority.”

Attempts to find the vendor were unsuccessful.

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