PANAMA CITY BEACH — A woman and her husband were booted from a Halloween party after a dispute with the management over whether her service dog could be inside, according to a police report.
Bennie and Mary Gray were attending a Halloween costume party at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge at Pier Park. Police were called there about 9 p.m., according to the report, after a bouncer told the couple they weren’t allowed to have the dog inside the bar. Bennie Gray, 56, explained to the bouncer it was a service dog, and the bouncer asked to see the dog’s papers.
Bennie Gray told the bouncer the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not allow such paperwork to be requested, and the bouncer told them to leave, according to the report.
The manager of Tootsie’s, Melissia Pennington, intervened at some point during the dispute, according to the report. She told officers she spoke to the Grays and told them the dog could stay. But she also alleged Bennie Gray became very aggressive toward her during the dispute, and she ultimately decided to tell the couple to leave.
In a brief phone interview, Bennie Gray said his wife has multiple sclerosis and that her service dog, which she has had for eight years, alerts her to oncoming seizures. Mary Gray, 36, spent days making a Halloween costume for the dog, he said. They also were celebrating Bennie Gray’s birthday at the party.
“She cried all night long,” Bennie Gray said this week. “They ruined her night.”
Bennie Gray said the dog was wearing service badges during the incident and that he asked a Tootsie’s bouncer to look up ADA on a computer, but the bouncer refused. Bennie Gray said he has reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Pennington said the Grays were kicked out because they were “unruly and difficult patrons.” She said the couple was getting in the face of security staffers during the dispute.
“The people were not kicked out, obviously, because they have a service dog. We wait on people all the time with service dogs,” she said.
Pennington said a security staffer did try to verify the dog was a service animal, but she wouldn’t say how.
According to the ADA, businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal and what tasks it has been trained to perform. However, businesses may not require special identification for the animal or ask about the person’s disability. If an animal has been trained to assist a person with a disability, the ADS says it is considered a service animal regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by state or local government.
Violators of the ADA may be required to pay monetary damages and penalties.
Bennie Gray said he and his wife have lived in the Panama City area for 12 years, and that Tootsie’s allowed the service dog inside on previous visits to the bar.
NOTE FROM SUSSIE: This situation is the reason I never get in anyone’s face if they deny my Service Dog. I just call the Cops. That way they can never use the excuse that I was being confrontational. Most business do not like to have the Cops show up.