Days after Starbucks apologized and promised changes following the arrest of two black men who were waiting for a friend inside a Philadelphia Starbucks, a Southern California branch of the coffee megachain is in the spotlight because a black man was apparently treated unfairly there as well.
In video of the local incident that has gone viral, a man who identifies himself as Brandon Ward questions another man as he exits a restroom inside a Starbucks in Torrance. The other man, who appears to be white, gives his name as Weston and says coffee shop employees gave him the code to get into the bathroom – before he made a purchase.
Ward, a 26-year-old Carson resident, then indicates that he was denied the code because he had not made a purchase.
"Is it because of my skin color?" he asks, confronting a woman who says she is the store manager.
The manager asks him to leave the store and a security guard approaches as the video ends. Torrance police confirmed officers were called to the location but no arrests were made.
Ward told KTLA the incident happened Jan. 23, but he chose to post the 1 minute, 42-second video to his Facebook page again Saturday; it has been viewed more than 445,000 times by midday Monday.
The incident comes to light after a video went viral late last week showing two black men being arrested after apparently sitting down without making a purchase at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. They too had asked to use the restroom before buying anything, according to Philadelphia's police commissioner.
Starbucks employees asked the men to leave and then called 911 to report trespassing, according to the commissioner, who defended the actions of the arresting officers.
The men had been waiting for a friend, local media reported. They were released and no charges have been filed in that incident, which generated outrage and accusations of racism against the Seattle-based megachain.
The Philadelphia store was closed amid protests on Monday, and the company said the store manager who called 911 no longer works there. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has apologized, calling the incident "reprehensible." He promised "unconscious bias" training for store staff.
Then, as the Philadelphia story was continuing to develop Monday morning, civil rights activist and writer Shaun King shared Brandon Ward's video on Twitter, where it reached hundreds of thousands more people.
"RACISM," King wrote in the tweet.
In the video, Ward says he's at the Starbucks at the intersection of Hawthorne and Artesia boulevards, which is in Torrance next to the Redondo Beach border. The location is about 14 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles.
As Ward describes what happened, comparing Weston's experience to his own, the manager tells him, "You need to stop recording right now."
"This is a private business; I am the store manager. I am asking you to leave right now. You are actually not allowed to be here anymore," she says.
Ward turns to Weston and says, "Is it my skin color? I can't use the bathroom but Weston could? I think it may be my skin color."
With a security guard visibly approaching, the video cuts off as Ward says he's about to post the recording on social media.
Ward told KTLA on Monday that a security guard escorted him out of the Starbucks, and then police arrived when he had left and was down the street.
When he arrived at the Starbucks to wait for a friend, Ward spotted a sign saying restroom were for customers, he said. He asked store staff if he could use the restroom and then buy something afterward, but was told no.
Then, he spotted Weston get a code from store staff without buying anything. The video was recorded after that.
"Anyone would be baffled. Why? ... What's stopping me?" Ward said. "He didn't make a purchase – this is your policy. You should stand by your policy."
Torrance Police Department Sgt. Ron Harris confirmed officers responded to the Starbucks about 9:45 a.m. Jan. 23 for an "assist a citizen" call. The caller reported an individual was upset with management regarding a restroom issue, Harris said.
When officers arrived, they spoke to management but the individual was no longer there, the sergeant said. The management indicated store staff would call police again if the person returned to the store, Harris said, but police never received a follow-up call.
After a request for comment on the incident, Starbucks pointed to the apology its CEO offered in an open letter over the weekend in connection with the Philadelphia incident. Starbucks is investigating store practices and guidelines companywide, it said.
"Please know that we are taking this video and the commentary around it very seriously, and are working closely with the team to understand more," the company's media relations team said in an email. "In addition to our own review, we will work with outside experts and community leaders to understand and adopt best practices, including unconscious bias training."
A KTLA reporter who visited the Torrance Starbucks on Monday inquired about the store's bathroom policy. Store employees would not provide the policy and referred the reporter to the company's corporate offices. The reporter was asked if she was news media and then asked to leave.
There was no visible sign indicating who may or may not use the restroom at the store.
KTLA's Jennifer Thang contributed to this article.