Visually impaired man says he was denied access to business because of service dog

Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 8:54 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN/Gray News) - A man in North Carolina is speaking out after he says he was denied service at a business because he had a service dog.

Landon Stevenson, a student at East Carolina University, says being legally blind has challenged him since the third grade. Recently, a business in Greenville, North Carolina has provided another challenge.

Stevenson said he visited Insomnia Cookies on a Friday night earlier this month with his service dog Sean, like he’s done numerous times before. However, this time was different after an assistant manager denied him access due to their “no pets” policy.

The situation escalated as Stevenson refused to leave, claiming his legal right to bring his service animal. Eventually, the store called the cops, leaving Stevenson to defend his right to entry.

“With a service dog, I can get on planes, I can go into any business. Anywhere that I am allowed, my dog is allowed. This is the first time that the cops have been called. I mean, I have been told I can’t be placed before but usually someone will step up and say ‘Oh no, don’t do that,’” Stevenson said.

Greenville police reported an officer at the scene informed the employee that it was illegal to deny Stevenson service because of his service dog under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The police shared a statement about the incident, regarding whether businesses have the right to contact law enforcement to remove someone and their service animal.

“Anyone can, of course, legally call the cops if they have a concern but, in this case, an officer informed the employee that they cannot deny entry or service to someone with a service animal,” the department said in the statement. “These are Federal ADA requirements, not local laws. It’s up to individual businesses to provide the proper training on these laws.”

Stevenson said the first officers that arrived at the scene were not aware of the laws pertaining to service dogs, and it was only after additional officers did he find support in defending his right.

In the end, Stevenson said the assistant manager claimed they didn’t care about the service dog but still wanted Stevenson removed, and officers led Stevenson out of the building.

Stevenson said hopes this incident will lead to additional training for law enforcement regarding ADA requirements.

“I’m hoping that when they call the police to report me that the police are going to show up and fight for my rights, and initially they didn’t, and I had to request a sergeant and go through that,” Stevenson said. “So hopefully it doesn’t happen again. So for other communities, it’s important so that they can stand up for your rights when you get there.”

Stevenson says he has been in touch with the manager of Insomnia, who has apologized and admitted that his staff was in the wrong. Even so, Stevenson says it is important that business’ educate their employees on the law when it comes to service animals.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, entities that have a “no pets” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities.