It's sometimes said "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," and such seems to be the case in the Whitehall community of Muskegon County, Michigan, where a long time grocery store employee, with an equally long time penchant for hugging customers, didn't just get fired for one of his hugs, but is facing assault charges.
West Michigan's Fox 17 reports that the hugging suspect, Fred Civis, says it was just one of his typical friendly hugs, a gesture Civis has used to greet customers ever since he began working for Plumb's Valu-Rite Foods 39 years ago.
"(It was) a pal hug, you put your arm around the shoulder," said Civis."Ya know you're best pals."
But the woman Civis hugged apparently didn't appreciate the embrace and complained to the store manager, igniting the controversy that has lead to Civis's firing and the misdemeanor assault and battery charges against him.
But the community reaction to both Civis's termination and the charges has been equally powerful. Whitehall-ians pulled together and rallied Wednesday on behalf of Civis, hoisting signs, exclaiming, "We want Fred!"
Timothy Cooper, a Whitehall resident, also started a Facebook page, Boycott Whitehall Plumb's for Fred.
"Fred's been here almost as long as Plumb's has," said Cooper. "I remember Fred when I was young. He's been here close to 40 years."
The support also deeply touched Civis, the long time grocery store worker saying, "I just want to cry, because (the support) makes me feel great."
But as often happens during volatile community disputes, a darker side of the controversy has emerged in the form of death threats via the Civas Facebook support page.
According to Fox 17, Kim Woodland has been targeted by Civis supporters and death threats because they believe she is who made the complaint that started the hugging brouhaha. Woodland denies being the primary accuser, however, and is not pleased by the attacks she is suddenly absorbing.
"The things I've read and the vulgarity, I can't even go there," said Woodland. "I have kids. I have kids that live here I have a great family, we we're literally being thrown under the bus because someone needed someone to lynch, and I think it's sickening."
At the same time, Ms. Woodland, a regular Plumb's shopper, does acknowledge that she has reported behavior by Civis to Plumb's management that she deemed strange. But she also notes that Civis is "helpful."
Enter Woodland's husband, however, Jeff, who joined in on the Civis supporters' Facebook page to express his views on the matter, and a potential catalyst for Civis supporters to be focusing on Ms. Woodland can be seen:
"The guy deserves to get fired he got a little too close to my wife and she put in a complaint a couple of times. Before you push like and boycott Plumb's wait till the truth comes out before you judge, that holds true for all things in life."Mr. Woodland's comment didn't sit well with Civis supporters, and resulted in an avalanche of offensive comments and name calling aimed at the Woodland family, Ms. Woodland saying:
"My husband's couple of words have literally been transpired into something that it's not... The things that have been said are disgusting. I don't know the details of what's going on with Fred or this lawsuit, it's not our business, but I can't fathom being on the opposite end where a victim is getting victimized in a sense, because someone that's going to file that complaint, they're going to be up against what I'm up against."
Fred Civis has been officially charged with one count of misdemeanor assault and battery. If found guilty he faces up to 93 days behind bars, a $500 fine, or both.
Image via Facebook