Last summer, a Los Angeles police officer bewildered America by claiming that a Starbucks barista had served him a mocha frappuccino with a tampon in it, sparking a criminal probe by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and inspiring the LAPD’s union to tell local Fox reporter Bill Melugin “This disgusting assault on a police officer was carried out by someone with hatred in their heart and who lacks human decency.”
A Motherboard investigation, though, cast serious doubt on the claim that the object in the officer’s drink was a tampon, and the Sheriff’s Department eventually concluded that it was in fact a cleaning cloth that the barista had accidentally scooped up with ice and inadvertently blended into the frappuccino.
Now, video and documents newly obtained by Motherboard through a public-records request cast light on the strange incident, and make it still more perplexing that the police officer would have mistaken what was in his drink for a tampon.
In an incident report dated June 21, a sheriff’s deputy straightforwardly described the officer’s claims. As he told the story, he ordered his frappuccino, took it to his car, and “immediately began to taste a furry/cloth substance,” then documented what was in the cup with a video taken on his phone. Motherboard obtained this video.
“So I stopped by Starbucks before coming over here to the club, I take a sip of my mocha frappe, and ended up with this in my mouth,” the officer narrates in the video. His fingers manipulate a shred of a textile of some sort, rolling it, moving it closer to the camera. “It kind of looks like some sort of fur, right?”
“So then I open up the drink and take a look and I start pulling out more of this shit from my drink. Anybody have any ideas what this might be?” he asks, though it is unclear who his audience is. “Interesting. And to think that there’s any chance that the person that made this had absolutely no idea that that was in my drink is beyond me.”
He reaches back into the iced drink and pulls several more fibers from the drink. Some of the ice melts. The liquid temporarily stains his visibly dry skin a caramel color. He sticks his hand into the drink to retrieve yet more of the material he would later claim was a tampon. “Look at this,” he says, rolling yet more of the material between his fingers. “Look at this,” he says. His hand goes in again. “What the fuck … is this shit?” he asks, inserting a long, dramatic pause for emphasis. “Look at this. That’s in my fuckin’ drink, dude. Wow.” His hand goes into the drink again. “Oh my God. Look at this. Look. It’s in my mocha frappe. It’s like fur. Wow. Unbelievable.” The video ends.
According to the incident report, he then left the cup alone in his car for four hours before further examining it and creating another video, from which he captured the now-infamous image of him removing what he claimed was a tampon from the drink. In this second video, he is again narrating to an unknown audience: “That’s a negative, I did not taste blood,” he says while lifting the cloth from a green straw out of the drink. “Any of you guys able to make out what the fuck this is? I left that mocha frappe in my car and this is what I ended up pulling out. Who thinks it’s a tampon? Let me know what you guys think.”
The report accurately described what was eventually identified as a cloth as “a long tubular furry/cloth shaped object.” It did not explain why the officer turned to a narrative of grievance and paranoia, but did describe it: He theorized that the barista had identified him as a police officer by scrutinizing his credit card as he swiped to pay for his order, then placed the tampon in his drink in order to poison him. (Despite his belief that he had ingested bits of a possibly used tampon, the report noted that “he had not sought any medical attention, because he had not felt the need too.”)
In a supplemental report filed on the same day, a second deputy described viewing security camera footage from the Starbucks in question. Due to the resolution of the video and the angle at which it was taken, they were unable to determine whether the barista had tampered with the drink. A spokesperson for Target, which operates the Starbucks, previously told Motherboard that a review of the footage hadn’t turned up any suspicious behavior. This video was not provided to Motherboard.
None of the material provided to Motherboard explains why the officer at the center of the case believed he had been singled out and targeted for persecution. The file names of the movies taken on his phone are IMG_ 5514.MOV and IMG_5516.MOV; whether IMG_5515 was a video file, and if so whether it traces the evolution of his thinking during the four hours between the time the two videos were taken, is unknown.
A spokesperson for the LAPD union said that he did not believe that the union had apologized to the innocent and reportedly embarrassed barista it claimed had assaulted a police officer with hatred in her heart.