Florida bar tells veterans: Your service dogs can stay but you must leave

Disabled veteran trespassed by Port Orange police

Several veterans with service dogs have recently been asked to leave a Port Orange bar, including one man who was trespassed but told his “dog could stay," police reports and body camera video shows.

PORT ORANGE, Fla. – Several veterans with service dogs have recently been asked to leave a Port Orange bar, including one man who was trespassed but told his “dog could stay," police reports and body camera video shows.

On Sept. 25, Port Orange police were called to The Port Hole on Herbert Street around 10 p.m. where an employee at the bar asked police to trespass Stephen Harmon, who was at the business with his service dog, according to the police report.

“I was crying because I was just so hurt that someone would do this to a veteran,” Stephen Harmon said. “The bartender told me that there were no dogs allowed. I informed her that Major is a service dog.”

A body camera from the first officer to arrive shows Harmon sitting on a stool with his German Shepard service dog. The dog is wearing a service vest, according to the report. Harmon told the officer he was told “the dog could stay but I have to go.”

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Officers advised Harmon to talk to a lawyer about a possible violation of the American with Disabilities Act.

“Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is allowed to go,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Harmon told News 6 he believes this is an attempt by the bar to circumvent ADA laws regarding service animals.

Body camera video shows an employee at the bar told police there was no disturbance before they asked Harmon to leave.

“I want him not in the business. And he said call the cops,” the Port Hole employee says. “So apparently he’s doing a sit-in and he doesn’t want to leave.”

“Was there a disturbance or something that was going on?” the officer responds.

“No, we just don’t want to serve him,” she replies.

“You don’t want to serve him?” the officer says, to which the employee says, “right.”

Veteran Stephen Harmon and his service dog. (Image: Loren Korn/WKMG) (WKMG 2020)

A Port Orange police sergeant spoke to the veteran outside the bar and asked what was going on. Throughout the encounter, Harmon is calm but clearly upset and his dog is on a leash by his side obeying commands, body camera video shows.

“Just come here to have a drink and eat some food with my service dog," Harmon told the police sergeant.

“As soon as I walked in they told me they just kicked a whole band out because of a dog," Harmon said. “He is obviously not a dog, he’s a service dog.”

The sergeant explains because the business is private property they can ask him to leave.

The body camera video has been posted at the top of this story.

After he has been issued a trespass warning from police, Harmon says to the bar employee in the parking lot: “Trespassing a disabled veteran, what a (expletive) (expletive).”

The following day, Michael Knight, the general manager of the Port Hole went to the Port Orange Police Department, police records show.

“He wanted to know if he could trespass people who had service dogs. I told Michael that he could trespass anybody he wanted but there is a chance he could open himself up to civil liability,” police records show.

During a separate incident on Sept. 28, three other veterans went to The Port Hole with their service dogs and were also asked to leave.

A viral video that has since been shared hundreds of times on Facebook shows three veterans at the business with their service dogs, being told by an employee to leave but the dogs can stay.

“The owners of the dogs have to leave,” the manager tells the customers he is asking to leave. In another video, the manager says, “this is what (the owner) told me, ‘the dogs can stay but the owners have to leave.’”

K-9 LINE owner Alexandra Clark, left, and veteran Shawn Salvi, right, were asked to leave the Port Hole restaurant in Port Orange on Sept. 28, 2020. (Image: Loren Korn/WKMG) (WKMG 2020)

“We had been in this place of business for 20 minutes, ordered our drinks and (were) about to order our food, when the manager came up behind us and told us we have to leave,” Alexandra Clark wrote in a post with the video.

Clark said she was at Port Hole with two other veterans with service dogs when the incident happened. One of the women in the video is associated with K-9 LINE, a nonprofit that trains and pairs service dogs with disabled veterans.

“We’ve done training everywhere. We’ve never had any issues," Clark said.

Posted by Alexandra Nass on Monday, September 28, 2020

“Is this because we’re disabled, and we have service dogs that you’re going to discriminate against us and we’re not allowed to be in the restaurant,” Clark asked.

The video shows the well-behaved service dogs laying down with their vests on throughout the encounter with The Port Hole manager.

Port Hole general manager Mike Knight told News 6 he did not know Harmon’s dog was a service animal and on Sept. 28 when the women came in with their dogs he wasn’t at the restaurant.

Knight said he has apologized and reached out to K-9 LINE to make amends. He said moving forward he will train his staff to recognize service animals.

“We should have maybe recognized the fact that we need to be trained a little bit more to see what is indeed a service dog and what is indeed a pet," Knight said. "We apologized. We have reached out to the association that has created this, and again, I can’t apologize more than I am today.”

Clark said K-9 LINE is considering legal action against Port Hole.

About the Authors:

Loren Korn is a native Texan who joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2014. She was born and raised in Houston and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Journalism.